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Kelsey Timmerman
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Kelsey Timmerman is the author of Where Am I Eating? A Journey Through the Global Food Economy and Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Condé Nast Portfolio and has aired on NPR. He has been interviewed by media outlets around the world. He regularly speaks at universities across the United States on subjects such as globalization, travel, and social responsibility.

His online home is www.kelseytimmerman.com

Entries by Kelsey Timmerman

How Mobile Phones May Prevent the Next Rana Plaza Disaster

(0) Comments | Posted April 24, 2015 | 4:22 PM


(Arifa, a single mother of three children, and a garment worker I met while traveling in Bangladesh)

One moment Reshma Begum was sewing. The next she was falling from her station on the second floor into the basement of the Rana Plaza...

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Spoken-Word Artist Captures Pain and Fear of Child Abuse

(0) Comments | Posted February 3, 2015 | 11:00 PM

Co-authored by J.R. Jamison, co-founder of the Facing Project and executive director of Indiana Campus Compact

Taking a story someone has lived and translating it into a story you write -- as if you were them -- is not for the faint of heart, especially when that story is about child abuse, prostitution, and sex trafficking.

In this video, Yewande Austin, a spoken-word artist who has shared the stage with the Black Eyed Peas, delivers one of the most powerful works of art that you'll ever hear, see, and feel about child abuse and prostitution.

Yewande was the artistic director for Facing Sex Trafficking: Atlanta's Dirty Little Secret. She wrote and performed this first-person story of Kasey McClure who suffered years of sexual abuse from her father before she left home and fell into the trap of the sex industry.

After Kasey had her first child, Sarah, she left her haunted past behind and started 4Sarah Inc., a nonprofit organization that empowers change in the life direction of women and girls working in the sex industry.

Learn more about The Facing Project:

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Gay Married in Indiana for 7 Hours, But Will It Count?

(5) Comments | Posted September 3, 2014 | 12:16 PM

Last Tuesday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from supporters and opponents of gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana.

The federal judges will decide whether or not the wedding I attended with my wife and 5-year-old daughter...

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Craft Chocolate Sourced and Produced in Africa Fairly and Directly

(1) Comments | Posted August 26, 2014 | 5:24 PM

Some African cocoa farmers have never eaten chocolate even though the continent supplies 65% of the world's cocoa.

Cocoa is a commodity, one of the world's most volatile, and the quality of the farmers' lives rise and fall with the cocoa prices. The money isn't in the growing of...

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I Ate Hershey's Kisses With Cocoa Farmers in the Ivory Coast

(1) Comments | Posted August 4, 2014 | 5:07 PM

The above video of cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast tasting chocolate for the first time has been making its rounds, and, in fact, has been pointed out to me about eleven-thousand times already. (Seriously, thanks for thinking of me folks; I'm not complaining.)

Like the reporter in the video, I traveled to Ivory Coast to meet farmers and lugged along some chocolate. I assumed they had never eaten chocolate and that I would blow their taste buds with Hershey's bars and Hershey's kisses.

I assumed wrong.

Here's a video from my own experience followed by an excerpt from Where Am I Eating? An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy:

In much of the reporting on Ivorian chocolate, a reporter asks if the farmers have ever tasted chocolate and then the reporter is shocked to learn that they haven't. The reporter files his story full of indignation: "These farmers brave snakes and swing machetes to harvest cocoa and they haven't even tasted chocolate." The cruel irony! The humanity!

"Have you eaten chocolate before?" I asked.

Yes. Yes. Yes. They all have.

"Want some?" I reached into my bag and pulled out a few Hershey's Kisses followed by Hershey bars I had grabbed from the emergency s'more section of our pantry before I left my home in Indiana.

I passed the slightly melting bar to Serdge, who broke off a piece and gave it to Jack, who passed it along to a tall farmer named Francois. Each person gently pulled back the wrapper and took their bite. Lips smacked and Michael, a father of three, was the last to join our chocolate communion. He broke off three pieces, handed two of them to boys next to him and then popped in his own bite, overacting a smile and sounds of pleasure to the delight of our group.

They asked me about the price of chocolate and I did some math. An individual Hershey's bar is roughly one-tenth of a kilogram, and costs $1.

"Ten dollars per kilogram," I said.

They leaned back and made various sounds of shock, no doubt including a few swear words in disbelief. They are currently receiving 50 to 60 centers per kilogram of cocoa beans.

They ride the highs and lows of chocolate while the consumer always pays the same amount. It seems like I've been buying $1 Hershey bars forever.

What is the price of chocolate? That is a good question. And it's exactly what I came here to find out.

***

So the cocoa farming video went viral. Great!

But I think many of us are watching the video the same way, say, that we'd watch a video of an elephant seeing the ocean for the first time or one where cows are released in the pasture for the first time. But the cocoa farmers are people. They are struggling farmers trying to support their families by selling a commodity into a supply chain dominated by just a few players, including Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.

The tragedy isn't that they've never tasted chocolate; it's that they are valued so little. That they often have to rely on slave labor. (The industry relies on 160,000 slaves in Ivory Coast.) That they long for knowledge on how to farm better, but receive little help. That all of the value to their product is added on another continent. That cocoa is one of the world's most volatile commodities, and as the price rises and falls so do the futures of the children of the cocoa farmers.

Yes, there is a sweetness in the joy the farmers get from tasting chocolate for the first time, but there is also tragedy. As consumers, we can encourage the industry to change by buying Fair Trade Certified chocolate, which pays farmers a premium and reinvests in the farmers' local communities.

If we really want to put smiles on the faces of cocoa farmers, we'll support a business model that allows them to send their kids to school and provide for their...

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An Inside Look at Autism: Carter's White Box of Thoughts and Feelings

(0) Comments | Posted May 2, 2014 | 11:59 AM

When you think of someone who is on the autism spectrum, you might not think that they would hijack a photo shoot and endlessly mug for the camera. At least I wouldn't have until I met Carter.

The shoot had just started, and suddenly both of our photographers had...

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Why Now Is the Time to Start Drinking Fair Trade Coffee

(5) Comments | Posted January 23, 2014 | 11:53 AM

Being a coffee farmer isn't easy.

This was one of the thoughts racing through my head as I straddled a shivering coffee tree on a steep, crumbly volcanic mountainside in Colombia's Narino district. However, mostly I was thinking: "Don't die! Don't die!"

The "grande gringo" as I...

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CrossFit Helped Us Face Our Son's Autism Diagnosis

(1) Comments | Posted January 2, 2014 | 1:14 PM

Annie Kelsey Sledge Hammer

CrossFit was the best thing that happened to my family in 2013.

I know that sounds like an overstatement of immense proportions. It's not.

Annie, my wife, agrees. And if you knew Annie, she doesn't overstate anything.

...
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Paying Cash for Kids and Cancer

(3) Comments | Posted July 2, 2013 | 5:42 PM

Paying Cash for Kids

"Hi, my name is Kelsey Timmerman. How much does it cost to have a kid at your hospital? I'll pay cash. "

This is the state of the American medical system today. Patients are forced to approach the birth of a child like they would shopping...

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Cardboard Hearts Full of West African Chocolate and Western Guilt

(1) Comments | Posted February 14, 2013 | 1:30 PM

2012-08-09 11.44.56
(On a cocoa farm in Ivory Coast)

On Valentine's Day our cardboard hearts are filled with chocolate.

This week, Americans will buy nearly 60 million pounds of chocolate. We know the final destination -- in the...

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God Made Farmers, Man Made Ways to Exploit Them

(18) Comments | Posted February 11, 2013 | 1:53 PM

God made a farmer to care for his lands, animals, feed His people, and, according to the Super Bowl commercial, to drive a Dodge Ram truck. It was one of the most talked about commercials of the evening, attempting to strike the chord in all of us that Mitt Romney (or any other politician) tries to strike when he wears a Carhartt jacket.

We are a nation of farmers a few generations removed from the fields. But today only one percent of Americans are actually farmers. We revere the image of farmers on TV commercials and in campaign speeches. The truth is there are one billion farmers on earth and in some countries as many as 60 percent of them live in poverty.

In the past year I've worked alongside banana farmers in Costa Rica, coffee growers in Colombia, cocoa farmers in Africa, and apple farmers in Michigan and China, while researching Where Am I Eating. I've seen what life is actually like for farmers.

God made farmers and their seed, but man created laws that allow corporations to own the seed.

God made farmers, but man made "terminator technology" that keeps a crop from producing viable seeds so other men have to continue to buy the seed.

God made farmers, but man made the company store to which Costa Rican banana workers go in debt.

God made farmers, but man made a global market of speculation and short term profits that causes commodity prices to rise and fall and with them the lives of the farmers.

God made farmers, but man made pesticides that flat-broke farmers in China and India drink to end their lives and erase their debts.

God made farmers, but man made pesticides for farm laborers to spread, robbing them of their ability to father healthy children.

God made farmers, but man made farm subsidies that favor processed foods.

God made farmers, but man made slavery.

God made farmers, but man made a Super Bowl ad with a bunch of white farmers and one black one. In reality, much of American farm work is done by workers from Latin America, and much of our food isn't even homegrown: 86 percent of our seafood, 50 percent of our fresh fruit, and 20 percent of our vegetables come from other countries.

God may have made farmers all around the world, but man continues to make new ways to exploit...

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Boy Scouts of America Show Lack of Leadership

(46) Comments | Posted February 5, 2013 | 8:59 PM

When the Boy Scouts of America doubled down on their policy of discriminating against gay scouts and leaders, I announced that I was going to return my Eagle Scout awards. The decision wasn't made lightly. Scouting helped give me the confidence and independence to travel around the world alone...

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Walmart, 112 Dead Bangladeshis and You

(12) Comments | Posted November 28, 2012 | 3:33 PM

IMG_6633
(My friends at the Fantasy Kingdom amusement park located near the site of the factory that burned on Sunday in Ashulia, Bangladesh, killing 112 workers.)

They stood at the windows of the building, 100-feet above the ground, skin boiling....

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An Eagle Scout No More: Why I'm Sending My Badge Back to Boy Scouts of America

(357) Comments | Posted July 24, 2012 | 12:28 PM

Adam and I snuggled in the woods beneath our makeshift lean-to. We were 14. We weren't gay; we were cold. If we were gay, we would have been booted from Scouts, at least according to the discriminatory policies of the Boy Scouts of America's national leadership.

We adhered...

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I smuggled Anti-flatulence Underwear Past TSA

(3) Comments | Posted December 14, 2010 | 9:11 AM

I take out my laptop and set it in a bin. I slip my shoes off and smile at the TSA agent as if I have nothing to hide. As if I'm just another normal passenger. As if I'm not wearing anti-flatulence underwear.

My brow grows moist as I...

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5 Reasons American Apparel Is on the Path to Bankruptcy

(11) Comments | Posted August 24, 2010 | 3:36 PM

From the Financial Post's story American Apparel a hipster darling no more as bankruptcy looms:

"Dov Charney is at the moment of truth," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a national retail consulting and investment banking firm based in New York City. "And all roads for...
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Finance Reform: How Short Memories Are Created

(7) Comments | Posted July 15, 2010 | 11:06 AM

It is often remarked that people have short memories when it comes to financial crises, that the lessons of Enron and Worldcom and the Dotcom boom quickly receded. This is how political will resurfaces to begin the process of winding back regulation. It is how companies whose reputations became rightly...

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