Skip navigation

Category Archives: food

US Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD) recently  penned an op-ed piece about the lack of nutritious food for many of his constitutents in the Baltimore area, and how community action brought a supermarket to an underserved area. It's a reminder that going green affects everything from attitudes to what's on our plates.

Here is a link to his remarks, as published in  Baltimore's Afro September 14:

Sometimes you don't realize how much you depend on something until you try to give it up.  That's what Planet Harmony's Alexandria Collins learned when she tried to cast out her inner-carnivore.

Alexandria Collins: I love meat. Eating it could be considered an American pastime. Ever since I was a little girl my parents made sure that I had some sort of meat with every meal. Even with cereal, my mom wanted me to have ham or chicken to get protein. Crazy, I know. Now that I’m older and more health-conscious, I don’t want to eat meat all time.

This led me to want to become a vegetarian. About 2 months ago, I gave it a shot. I stopped eating meat—“cold turkey”. That’s the hardest thing I have ever done! When you can’t eat meat you realize how much of your food has meat in it! I lasted two days. I know that sounds horrible but I went about it totally wrong.

One of the biggest challenges didn’t come from me or the food I saw, but my family. My sisters laughed when I told them I was trying to be a vegetarian. My mom had this look of worry on her face and my dad pulled out some steak from the freezer and told me to cook dinner that night. It was hard! In the Black community we’ve grown up thinking that food defines the family. A ‘hearty’ meal defines what kind of man you are. Women are supposed to love cooking and making sure their family is full, and the only way we’ve been taught to do that is through fattening, greasy and meaty foods. It’s not healthy but at the time I didn’t have the will to see it through.

But now, I want to give it another shot. I spoke with my good friend Hannah Brooks who is a vegetarian and fellow socially conscious individual. Her advice to me is to start out small. I can’t try to stop completely or I’ll end up with the problem I had before where I craved a beef burrito more than I ever have in my entire life. She also told me to relax and think about the reasons I want to do it. Yes everyone, loving animals is a good reason, but if your conviction isn’t strong enough to move mountains, it won’t last. I’m heeding her advice and trying it again, even though I must say, it is still super hard.

But despite it all, I’m doing it. Hannah also gave me some great advice for my future family—way down the line—to secure our healthy place in the world. She said it’s important to start early. Especially with African-Americans we have to shift ourselves out of this unhealthy mindset and the more settled in our ways we become, the more difficult that is.

She’s right. Even though this bacon-lover is having a hard time adjusting, I’m doing it! Every day is a new journey towards a healthier me.

Alexandria Collins- Vegetarian.mp3 1.7 MB

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been measuring nationwide diabetes occurance and four years started releasing that data.  Since they started the number of cases has steadily risen.  Over at Slate, they turned that data into an interactive map that shows the most saturated places in America.  Some counties' diabetes percentage pushes into the upper teens.  Take a look at the map and consider that nearly twice as many African Americans suffer from diabetes than do white Americans.  Notice any patterns?

There are a lot of criticisms of the way we get meat; it's a drain on our natural resources, factory farms sully the environment and the animals are treated inhumanely  We know that, but if you come between a man and his rib-eye, you're looking for trouble.

A chef in Brooklyn is showing customers a new, ecologically friendly way to get protein… it just takes some guts:

"You really want to go green? Try this. “I have my month’s meat growing in my office,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s taking up almost no space, it’s organically raised, it’s as fresh as I want it to be and the waste from it is garden compost.”"

In North America, lobster (a proud member of the arthropod family), was reviled as prison food until the 50's when it became a delicacy.  How long will it be until the locavores embrace the gourmet mealworm?

There have been many competing theories about why we eat spicy food.  Some have posited that hot peppers force sweat, a welcomed cooling reflex desirable in hot places.  Another theory, also in equatorial regions, argues that spice extends the shelf-life of food that sours quickly under the sun.  Still others suggest that eating packets of hot sauce in the cafeteria was a sure-fire way to get attention and win friends… what, just me?

Today the NY Times proposes a novel theory for why we seek the heat: because we can.  We eat peppers like we seek any other dangerous thrill, with our rational brain reassuring our visceral self that the flames are temporary.  And we are unique in that ability.  Dr. Bloom, a Yale psychologist, tells the Times "Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans — language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.”

If this whet your appetite check out our story about American slaves that went on strike until their master delivered them pepper.

Flickr/ Marshall Astor

Salsa may be the world’s most ubiquitous condiment.  The spicy sauce and its partner in crime, guacamole, put the rest of the topping world to shame (eat it, ketchup!).  From nacho platters to burritos, most foods South of the Border can be enhanced by a dollop of red and greeen. But did you know how often you are dipping into danger?  A new survey from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that a whopping 4% of all food-borne outbreaks come from guacamole and salsa. Poor hand sanitation, refrigeration and salmonella in ingredients all contribute to the high risk. 

photo by bookgrl

With obesity rates among African Americans at such a high level—according to the Office of Minority Health, nearly 4 out of 5 African American women are either overweight or obese—- it doesn’t hurt to look at new approaches at healthy eating that still appeal to our tastes.

That’s why I recommend Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen—– "Fresh, Healthy, Creative African-American Cuisine."  Now I’m not recommending we all go 100% Vegan.  But many of the recipes could be great side dishes to smaller portions of meat and protein.  I’ve personally tried the Savory Triple Corn Grits, and can attest that they’re just as creamy and delicious as regular grits that are overloaded with butter. 

Bryant Terry’s is an inspiring figure.  He was a food policy fellow with the Kellogg Foundation and tours the country awakening peoples’ consciousness and pallets to the joys of local, seasonal, and sustainable food and the repercussions of eating the status quo.

Here’s a great video on the Mother Jones website where you can see Terry cook up some citrus collard greens!

Photo Cuisine Noir Mag

Millions of Africans were separated from their families and homes by slavery, but some of their familiar foods came with them.

For 145 years June 19th has been the day that many African American communities mark emancipation. Juneteenth, as it’s known, is a day for picnics and cookouts in honor of the end of American slavery. What’s not often appreciated at those gatherings is the role that slaves played in bringing some of those picnic foods to American tables. Living on Earth and Planet Harmony producer Ike Sriskandarajah explores how culture and agriculture overlapped in that dark chapter of American history.

SRISKANDARAJAH: For a thousand years before the Atlantic slave trade started, the origin of humanity was also its cornucopia. Many of the world’s staple foods first sprouted from African soil. They’re on your picnic table- from the sesame seeds on your bun, to the Worcestershire sauce in your hamburger, to your slice of watermelon. And if you reach into the cooler…


CARNEY: The cola in coca-cola is an African plant as well- the cola nut.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Judith Carney, is the author of, “In The Shadow of Slavery, Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World.” Her book traces the path of food that traveled with slaves. Including an ingredient in the world’s most ubiquitous fizzy drink

CARNEY: Cola, came on slave ships- they used cola in the casks of water that were carried on the ships to refresh water that was going bad during the prolonged voyage

SRISKANDARAJAH: So they were drinking coke 400 years ago on slave ships?

CARNEY: No, no- (laughs)- you need the coca part of it to add the sugar, I think. The only thing, I would say it’s slightly more bitter than eating a potato raw.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Another of our favorite drinks, coffee, also comes out of Africa. And millet, black eyed peas… Judith Carney tracks the migration of these foods through historical records

CARNEY: I went back and looked at the journals and the diaries, what did the ship captains- the slavers- how are they feeding people for 6 weeks to 3 months voyages?

SRISKANDARAJAH: One such log was written by a seventeenth century slave trader, moored off the coast of Western Africa.


VOICEOVER: A ship that takes in 500 slaves, must provide about a hundred thousand yams; which is very difficult, because it is hard to stow them, by reason they take up so much room; and yet no less ought to be provided, the slaves being of such constitution, that no other food will keep them; so that they sicken and die apace.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The slaver’s human cargo was valuable. So captains bought food the captured Africans could eat, and they bought enough of it. Sometimes the ships would even land in the New World with surplus.

CARNEY: And that I argue, the unwitting conveyance of bringing African food to the Americas, was the slave ship.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Once in the Americas the slaves were scattered to work plantation cash crops. But they were also expected to feed themselves.

CARNEY: We think of plantations as places that produced export crops, but we don’t think about them as places where human beings had to also know how to farm for their own nourishment.

SRISKANDARAJAH: A Danish Traveler, Johan L. Carsten’s, wrote a diary describing his observations of the Americas during the early Eighteenth Century


VOICEOVER: These plantation slaves received nothing from their master in the way of food or clothing except only the small plot of land at the outermost extremity of his plantation land that he assigns to each slave.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The staples from Western Africa flourished in the South, and from those meager plots came a rich food tradition. It was good enough for slaves, it was even good enough for a founding father. Culinary Historian, Michael Twitty says that Thomas Jefferson actually bought food from his slaves.

TWITTY: Oh yeah, oh yeah. The day-to-day needs of his own kitchen table, much of that was supplied by the enslaved population of Monticello. There are extensive records of purchases for the main house from the enslaved communities. He would buy cabbage, he would buy watermelon, he’d buy sprouts.

SRISKANDARAJAH: President Jefferson wasn’t alone.

TWITTY: Before the new immigrants come in at the beginning of the 20th century, we are the ethnic restaurateurs of America.

SRISKANDARAJAH: And Twitty says that African Americans didn’t just add ingredients to America’s Melting Pot- they spiced it up.

TWITTY: Red pepper was the most important, ubiquitous spice.

SRISKANDARAJAH: So important, that in 1780, close to 100 slaves, newly imported from West Africa, protested until plantation owner Josiah Collins supplied the spice.

TWITTY: Within a year of their arrival he has to order 1000 pepper pods to season their food because they will not eat bland food. They express to him that, ‘we want the pepper pods!’

SRISKANDARAJAH: Hot sauce has been on most southern tables since. African American cuisine still has its roots in those peripheral plots but, but African Americans’ connection to the land has changed.

TWITTY: We were an agrarian people for millennia even through the period of slavery- and we went from being 90 percent agrarian to 90 percent urban in less than a 100 years- think about that.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Freedom wasn’t free, emancipation cost the slaves their link to the land. African Americans couldn’t own or lease land, their only option was punitive sharecropping.

TWITTY: All that oppression hurt us in the long run because it divorced us from the land, it divorced us from nature and through food we can reconnect with that and begin to repair those links.

SRISKANDARAJAH: That’s part of Michael Twitty’s mission, he works to bridge that gap. He’s put together the African American Heritage Seed Collection. It offers heirloom seeds to today’s gardeners.

TWITTY: To see an okra plant that you know that was growing in Mt. Vernon or Monticello, to see a kind of rice grown in the rice plantations of 17th century South Carolina- it gives you the sense of such connection. Because I always tell people- my own corny saying, but: growing history is knowing history.

SRISKANDARAJAH: And knowing history can turn your bowl of gumbo into a portal back through time. For Planet Harmony and Living on Earth, I’m Ike Sriskandarajah. Happy Juneteenth.

[MUSIC]: Carolina Cholcolate Drops “ Peace Behind The Bridge” from Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch Records 2009).

Juneteenth pH.mp3 2.4 MB

It’s gardening season again but for urbanites that doesn’t have to mean just growing a pot of basil on the porch. “Garden Girl” Patti Moreno tells Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb why she digs city gardening.

Check out Patti Moreno’s Website: Garden Girl TV for dozens of how-to videos .


100521gardengirl-05.mp3 1.9 MB

October isn’t all about Halloween. Not only is it the start of baking season, but it is also the end of harvest in some states. 
To mark both occasions I went to the farmer’s market downtown and bought some locally grown late summer/ fall staples like zucchini, sweet potatoes, and acorn squash. Michigan has a bumper crop of apples, so I bought some of those too. 
With my bounty I made apple spice cakes, sweet potato zucchini bread, and squash soup. 
I happen to think that local and seasonal food tastes better, but it is undeniably better for the environment too – think cutting down on the miles produce typically travels, not supporting factory farms, and the carbon foot print you shrink by not reaching for something packaged. 

Convinced that you want to eat local too? Check Local Harvest for a farmer’s market near you. 
Here is a recipe to get started
PS-  I used local spelt as a sub for flour.