Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs, writers and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian, living history interpreter and Jewish educator from the Washington D.C. area. He blogs at Afroculinaria.com and thecookinggene.com. As the originator of the Cooking Gene Project, he seeks to trace his ancestry through food.
Edward Booker, Hattie Bellamy and Washington Twitty didn’t know what an organic farm was, but nearly everything they ate was organic. They enjoyed wild caught, sustainable fish; they were no strangers to free range chickens, and they ate with the seasons with almost nothing originating more than a mile or two away from their cabin door. They had gardens, composted, and ate no processed foods. Their food was fairly simple, often meatless; and it was a fusion cuisine, with ingredients drawn from five continents.
They were not culinary revolutionaries living out of the foodie playbook - they were three enslaved individuals living among the over 4 million held in bondage before the Civil War, and they were my ancestors.
In the upcoming months I will return to the fields, forests and waterways of the Old South in search of my culinary version of Roots, tracing my family tree through food from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom. The project is called The Cooking Gene: Southern Discomfort Tour.
Chocolate is one of life's greatest pleasures, but for the children working in slavery conditions in cacao fields across West Africa's Ivory Coast, the reality behind it is anything but sweet.
Some 70 to 75 percent of the world's cocoa beans are grown on small farms in West Africa, including the Ivory Coast, according to the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative. The CNN Freedom Project reports that in the Ivory Coast alone, there are an estimated 200,000 children working the fields, many against their will, to satisfy the world's hunger for chocolate.
The average American eats around 11 pounds of chocolate each year, and the weeks leading up to Easter show the second biggest United States sales spike of the year next to Halloween - 71 million pounds according to a 2009 Neilsen report. A recent press release from Kraft claims that worldwide, more consumers purchase chocolate during Easter than any other season.
So how does a chocolate lover ensure that the treats filling their family's Easter baskets are not supporting a life of slavery for a child half a world away?
In search of a sweeter solution for your Valentine's Day chocolate? 18-year-old Zoë S. Taylor shares the story of Atlanta confection shop Sugar-Coated Radical, which according to their website, uses only direct and fair trade-organic-post-consumer recycled and locally sourced materials.
Taylor says, "I was attracted to the uniqueness of the shop, the friendly atmosphere, the beauty of the chocolates (when I first saw the chocolates, I immediately imagined all the images I could capture) and most importantly their ethical views."
Would you eat at a restaurant without knowing if the food has gotten a good review? How about basing the night's dining destination on how well its employees are treated?
A new guide has been released rating restaurants not on the quality of their cuisine, but rather on fairness.
"Diners' Guide 2012: A Consumer’s Guide on the Working Conditions of American Restaurants" evaluates establishments nationwide, from fast food to fine dining, ranking them on their labor practices.
In "Chocolate's Child Slaves," CNN's David McKenzie travels into the heart of the Ivory Coast to investigate what's happening to children working in the cocoa fields. Premieres Friday January 20, 8 p.m. GMT, 9 CET on CNN International. More information and air times
It may be unthinkable that the chocolate we enjoy could come from the hands of children working as slaves. In the Ivory Coast and other cocoa-producing countries, there are an estimated 100,000 children working the fields, many against their will, to create the chocolate delicacies enjoyed around the world.
In "Chocolate's Child Slaves," CNN's David McKenzie travels into the heart of the Ivory Coast to investigate what's happening to children working in the cocoa fields. (Premieres Friday January 20, 8 p.m. GMT, 9 CET on CNN International.)
It's easy to say that human trafficking is a violation against basic human rights and that it should be abolished. And we often assume that modern-day slavery only takes place in countries far away.
But chances are, you have purchased, eaten, or have worn something tainted by slavery sometime in your life. Curious about what some of those connections might be? Calculate what some groups call your "slavery footprint" or check out Anti-Slavery International's interactive map of products, which includes something many of us love: chocolate.
For a response from the industry, read Why tomatoes grow in Florida
In the sultry summer heat, there are few flavors more welcome than that of a burstingly fresh, sloppy, sweet, tangy, locally grown tomato. In the winter, though, their grocery store equivalent is barely recognizable as the same fruit. They're hard, uniformly round and almost inevitably taste-free.
They're also mostly trucked in from Florida, where they're grown in some challenging agricultural conditions, and where the industry has come under scrutiny for their labor practices.
Barry Estabrook, author of 'Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit' spoke with Eatocracy about this came to be.
Eatocracy: How did you become invested in telling the story of the modern day tomato?
Estabrook: I became interested in tomatoes when I was in fact attacked by a group of tomatoes. I was driving down an interstate highway in Southwestern Florida and come up behind what I thought at first was a gravel truck. As I got closer, I saw what I took for Granny Smith apples - and I thought, "Those don't grow in Florida." When I got really close, I saw it was full of bright green tomatoes. No pink - just green.
I was mesmerized, and then the truck hit a bump. Three tomatoes came flying off and nearly went through my windshield. I noticed that they hit the pavement on I-75, bounced and then rolled into the ditch.
They didn't shatter, they didn't splatter; they stayed intact. I thought, "My God! What have they done to this wonderful fruit?"
Author Barry Estabrook's book 'Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit' addresses some concerns over the conditions in which modern day tomatoes are harvested, and takes direct aim at the quality of the Florida-produced product.
We spoke with the Florida Tomato Committee's manager Reggie Brown to get his side of this complex story.
Eatocracy: In his book 'Tomatoland,' Barry Estabrook describes climate conditions in Florida that don’t seem to be conducive to growing tomatoes. What went into the decision to grow tomatoes in Florida?
Reggie Brown: We grow tomatoes in Florida because it is a viable business. Florida is the only place in the continental United States where we can produce tomatoes for many months of the year, and because of the fact that we like producing tomatoes and providing American jobs for Americans in America.
Anderson Cooper reports live from Somalia and talks with U2's Bono about the disturbing hunger situation there and how you can help. Tune into "AC360º" at 8 and 10 p.m. ET Wednesday on CNN.
There is no way to dignify the description of death by starvation. It is neither quick nor painless. Not too long after the food is cut off, the body resorts to fuel reserves in the liver and fatty tissues. Once the fat is all gone, and the person is a skeleton of what he or she once was, the body searches for protein, and finds it in muscle tissue. Even the muscle of the heart is consumed, leaving someone drained and listless.
The body shuts down. The pulse, the blood pressure and body temperature all precipitously drop. Little kids such as Ahmed (a six year old boy at the Dadaab refugee camp) completely stop growing and become stunted in time.
Read more at Saving Ahmed from starvation
On Tuesday night, Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta report live from Somalia with more on the disturbing hunger situation. "AC360º" is now at 8 and 10 ET weeknights on CNN.
Dadaab, Kenya (CNN) - Right now, this may be the most desperate place on Earth.
A drought, not seen in 60 years, compounded with near complete lawlessness and utter disregard for human life has made it so.
It is hard to imagine, but dust and starvation are nearly everywhere you look, and the world's largest refugee camp is thick with misery on this night. The smell is a combination of the acrid sweetness associated with malnourishment, anxious sweat and diesel fuel.