Are we eating ourselves to extinction? | Science and nature books | The Guardian

Kavilca wheat is one of the survivors of disappearing diversity, but only just. It has a distinctive history and a connection to a specific part of the world and its people. It is only during our lifetimes that this singular grain, perfectly adapted to its environment and with a taste like no other, has become endangered and pushed to the brink of extinction. The same is true of many thousands of other crops and foods. We should all know their stories and the reasons for their decline, because our survival depends on it…

If the businesses that helped create and spread homogeneity in our food are now voicing concerns over lost diversity, then we should all take notice. The enormity of what we’re losing is only now dawning on us, but if we act now, we can save it.

The decline in the diversity of our food, and the fact that so many foods have become endangered, didn’t happen by accident: it is an entirely human-made problem. The biggest loss of crop diversity came in the decades that followed the second world war when, in an attempt to save millions from starvation, crop scientists found ways to produce grains such as rice and wheat on a phenomenal scale. To grow the extra food the world desperately needed, thousands of traditional varieties were replaced by a small number of new super-productive ones. The strategy that ensured this – more agrochemicals, more irrigation, plus new genetics – came to be known as the “green revolution”…

I can’t claim saving endangered foods will provide answers to all of these problems, but I believe it should be part of the solution. Kavilca wheat, for example, can thrive in conditions so cold and damp that modern crops are guaranteed to fail. Bere barley is a food so perfectly adapted to the harsh environment of Orkney that no fertilisers or other chemicals are needed for it to grow. And murnong, a juicy, nutritious and once abundant root from southern Australia, is proof that the world has much to learn from indigenous peoples about eating more in harmony with nature.

The concept of being endangered and at risk of extinction is usually reserved for wildlife. Since the 1960s, the red list, compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has catalogued vulnerable plant and animal species (about 105,000 at the time of writing), highlighting those at risk of extinction (nearly 30,000).

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A version of the red list dedicated solely to food was created in the mid-1990s by Italy’s Slow Food movement and named the Ark of Taste. The group that created it saw that when a food, a local product or crop became endangered, so too did a way of life, knowledge and skill, a local economy and an ecosystem. Their call to respect diversity captured the imaginations of farmers, cooks and campaigners from around the world, who started to add their own endangered foods to the Ark.

Source: Are we eating ourselves to extinction? | Science and nature books | The Guardian

One thought on “Are we eating ourselves to extinction? | Science and nature books | The Guardian”

  1. What the author does not get to in this Re-edited article is that reduced varieties of wheat or corn, or rice makes them more subject to ruin by a new crop virus, bacteria, or pest. It also makes the more dependent of pesticides that may harm other crops and species. The explosion of palm oil plantations is the leading cause of deforestation and thus the extinction of other species and more climate change.

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