Agriculture – Food Diversity

August 20, 2020
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They say diversity is the spice of life, yet others say they prefer only one – but a good one.  So, what do you think?  Are we lacking in food diversity?  Or have we lost much of our food species, unquestionably eating what’s available to us on the supermarket shelves?  

Historical accounts view Queen Anne’s Lace is the wild carrot, (Daucus carrot).  It earned its name in England, 1665-1714 when Queen Anne pricked her finger while sewing, and a drop of blood landed on the white lace. The early Romans ate it as a vegetable and the American colonists boiled it as a treat in wine.  High in sugar, it was also appreciated by the Irish, Hindu, and Jewish to sweeten puddings and other foods.

In the Article Food by GOD: Are Carrots Man Made Hybrid Food?  The root goes as far back as perhaps ancient Egypt and Asia.  The Dutch in the 16th Century where domesticating the wild white carrot when they turned it yellow. It’s through cultivation and years that the carrot took on this orange hue.

Hybrid foods are made by crossbreeding plants under controlled pollination. When you take 2-different yet compatible plants, allowing them to receive pollen from one another, it produces a hybrid strain that blends the characteristics of both species. This deliberate manipulation is indeed viewed as genetically modified produce.

Root vegetables are many, and we still have the multicolored carrots of yellow, white, orange and purple in our markets.  Though the white ones may well be parsnips, very nutritious and excellent in stews and soups.

I was able to find at least ten different hybrid cross fruits, to name a few: the Plumcot which is a cross between an apricot and plum; Rangpur: (Citrus Limona) First found in Bangladesh;  Tangelo: A cross between tangerine and grapefruit; Blood Lime: the flavor of Ellendale Mandarin incorporated with the red finger lime… and last, Jamaican Ugli Fruit: which is what happens when a Seville Orange merges with a grapefruit, and a tangerine hybrid giving extra tangy flavour.  

Hybridizing serves the purpose of increasing yield productivity, cultivating insect resistance, lengthening food shelf life, shortening harvest times, and to achieve a more desirable product in terms of nutrition, flavour, and appearance to the consumer.   There is controversy here because purists feel that we are not really creating diversity, but slowly altering original natural foods, that are biologically appropriate to nourish our bodies, slowly phased out of our diet.

So how is it possible that we visibly see articles that claim our food diversity is shrinking? 

There is a graphic illustration by John Tomano, for National Geographic’s on dwindling Food Variety. It observes that we’ve come to depend on a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables, and thousands of heirloom varieties have disappeared.

This study was done in 1983 by the Rural Advancement Foundation International highlighting the extent of this problem.

It compared USDA Listings of seed varieties sold by commercial U.S. seed houses in 1903 with those in the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983. This survey, which includes 66 crops found about 93% of the varieties had gone extinct. More up to date studies are needed.

National Seed Storage Laboratory

Food and Farm Discussion Lab’s article by Food Biodiversity Scientist: Colin K. Khoury: Have We Really Lost 75% of Crop Diversity? Digs deeper to answer some questions.  We really don’t have any good data available that counts all the different species over time, before the crop disappeared. The results are just estimations for a few crops at local national levels, and they may have been generalized statements on crop diversity, that could have gotten somehow inflated.

Khoury notes that to place accurate numbers on diversity is complicated, and there appears to be different opinions.  Diversity on the farms started to decrease when farmers replaced traditional varieties with modern varieties to reflect trends in foods and farming technology, but does that mean we have lost them? Or we just started to use the popular ones more often? 

Looking at the data presented by FAOSTAT (Food and Agriculture of the United Nations) he observed that there was no crop loss in the past 50 years!  BUT, this is attributed to the way the study tables the results, it indicates 52 meaningful crop specific commodities and a number of them are grouped under “cereals and other. This lacks specifics in the data, so it cannot assess crops vulnerable to change in the global food system.

Rationalizing that if the FAO plants are placed into general categories or not measured at all, except for local markets, raises the brow that possibly that in and of itself, may pose as evidence to the possibility there is something wrong – or maybe dwindling.

Global dependence on a few select crops equates to expansive monocultures, with more lives riding on the outcome of the game of cat and mouse between pestilence and uniform varieties grown over large areas. Moreover, cheaply available macronutrients sourcing from these crops have contributed to the negative effects of the nutrition transition, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Colin K. Khoury, International Center for Tropical Agriculture

You can look at detailed results from Khoury’s interactive charts and graphs relating to food.  He is encouraging, because he claims our diets are headed in the right direction despite diversity changes.

I would like to bring up the Doomsday Seed Bank in Norway. We have several seedbanks globally, however the one in Norway is the principal one poking out of the mountain side, holding the worlds diverse species of crops in the event of cataclysm, so crop assortment isn’t lost forever.

The Crop Trust: The Svalbard Seed Vault, cost $9 million USD to construct, contains at least 13,000 years of agricultural history, opens twice a year for seed deposits and is located in a remote location supposedly safe from seismic activity. This site is above sea level even if the ice caps melt, and is considered to be in the best location, in cold permafrost safety, on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, about 800 miles from the North Pole.

There are 1,057,151 seed varieties conserved in the vault. The prime directive is dedicated to crop.  There are more than a thousand gene banks dedicated to food crops, but rest assured we do have one good one dedicated to seed diversity in the arctic, should we need to revive a food species.  

Together we can revive our living soil, and we are counting on you to join our soil mindfulness movement.  Whether you’re a purist, and prefers authentic crops undisturbed by hybridization, or a bit more eclectic and likes a fusion dish.  Our soil is important to grow the foods we choose to eat, without mineral rich, fertile soil we will have neither.

 

Soil for Humanity is a series of blogs that believes it will take the contribution of our global village to promote soil mindfulness a reality.   Join us as we learn from scientists, and experts on our journey, as we advocate for soil consciousness, which is pivotal to our health, our climate and is our legacy for future generations.

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