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Jori Lewis on the complex story of the peanut [replay]

Book cover for Slaves for Peanuts, a peanut plant illustration on an orange background, and a black and white headshot of Jori Lewis next to it.

Jori Lewis is the author of Slaves for Peanuts, published in 2022 by The New Press. (Courtesy of The New Press)

"Peanuts had become popular because of this movement of new American pastimes that were accessible to the common man, or the common person. So, baseball and theater halls and circuses--all of those places became places where people were interested in buying peanuts."

This week on the show we talk with Jori Lewis. She’s an award winning journalist and the author of Slaves For Peanuts: A Story of Conquest, Liberation, and a Crop that Changed History. It is a book about the natural and human history of the peanut and the role it played in West Africa as the transatlantic slave trade was ending.


Whether it’s candy bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or roasted peanuts at a baseball game, we Americans love ourpeanuts. In fact we consume more than 1.5 billion pounds of peanut products each year in the US, which seems like a lot to me considering the hyper-vigilance around peanut allergies these days. 

While peanut butter is one of my favorite foods, I can’t say that I have given much thought to the peanut as a crop, or paid any attention to it’s role in history. And I certainly never considered what role peanuts may have played in stories of slavery and freedom in West Africa in the 19th century. 

My guest today has considered these things, in depth. 

Jori Lewis is an award winning Journalist, writing about agriculture and the environment. In 2011 she moved to Senegal to study food security as a fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs. Jori Lewis is a 2018 recipient of the prestigious Whiting Grant for Creative Nonfiction.  Her book Slaves for Peanuts was published in 2022 by The New Press. She currently splits her time between Senegal and the United States, Illinois to be precise, which is where she is from originally.

Listen to our conversation on this week's show. 

Music on this Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from the artists at Universal Production Music.

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