Over 5,000 foods at risk of going extinct – here’s why it matters


fresh fruits and vegetables in zero waste bags

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We all have foods that are important to us, that relate as much to our identity as our livelihood. Maybe it’s the one we have every day, like a cup of arabica coffee; it is perhaps the one we expect all year round, savoring as much as possible in season, like a Sicilian blood orange; or maybe it’s a food like wild salmon which features familiar dishes without which no family celebration would be the same. If we suddenly became unable to find them, we would not only lose food, but also a part of ourselves. With over 5,000 foods from 130 countries threatened with extinction, this is a very real possibility.

“Diversity has been so important in our evolution that it is worrying how uniform and sometimes sweet our food has become,” said Dan Saladino, veteran food journalist at BBC Radio and author of Eat To Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods And Why We Need To Save Them ($ 26.99, barnesandnoble.com). Saladino was reporting on the harvest of blood oranges in Sicily over ten years ago when he discovered the Ark of Taste, a living Slow Food catalog of foods in danger of extinction. Saladino began crawling the catalog, spending years traveling and learning not only about foods at risk of extinction, but also about the people trying to save them. “I fell in love with the stories,” said Saladino. “Not only food, but also the people saving them. I wanted to tell this story of how much was lost.”

Related: What You Can Do to Shop, Cook, and Eat More Sustainably

Why are so many foods threatened with extinction?

book cover eat to extinction

book cover eat to extinction

Courtesy of YC Media

Throughout human history, humans have cultivated nearly 7,000 species of plants for food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Yet over the past century we have lost thousands of these species, and today almost half of our daily nutritional calories from plants come from just three: rice, wheat, and corn.

In Eat to extinction, Saladino takes readers around the world, introducing them to 34 foods, such as Honey from Hadza in Tanzania, Red Geeche Pea from Sapelo Island, Georgia, to the Wild Atlantic. Salmon from Ireland and Scotland and more. It is true that he struggled to narrow down the list. “I needed to select foods that would take the reader around the world, but I also wanted to avoid repeating how the food came into being and why it went missing. So, for example, the history of Kavilca wheat takes into account the Green Citrus Revolution speaks of fruit transport and selection, ”said Saladino.

Food is disappearing for all kinds of reasons, most of it related to human activity, such as overhunting, habitat destruction, and an agricultural production system that often favors a limited range of crops for profitability. And the loss of some cash is not always bad. Transportation and the ability to ship food have made it unnecessary for some species to exist in some areas while they are easier to grow elsewhere, but this reliance on a few crops not only puts our food system in danger of disruption (whether it is a global pandemic or a pest that could wipe out a species of banana or the climate crisis), but it also puts our health at risk.

Why it matters

The food system we’ve created over the past half century is a wonder when you stop and think. We have effectively created a system that allows us to have blueberries, lettuce, you name it, all year round, no matter where we live. For a price, that is. “There has been a concerted effort to change the global food system to produce more calories,” says Saladino. “After WWII people worried about famine, hunger, all of those things, but the price to pay for it was a world in which more of our food became more uniform. Today, Saladino says we are learning that the complexity of the food system and diversity are vital and cannot be ignored.

From a health point of view, most dietary guidelines recommend variety in the diet. This is because eating different types of food helps us consume a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals, promotes good gut bacteria, protects against chronic disease and more.

How can we prevent food from disappearing?

When you consider the numbers, over 5,000 foods are at risk of extinction – yes, it sounds overwhelming, but there are also plenty of reasons for hope. We are starting to bring back lost varieties. Public institutions and governments do some of this work, for example by purchasing school foods that are sensitive to diversity and feeding students with foods from the school. local farms. Saladino discusses efforts to preserve certain foods, but also writes, “You can also help by finding foods that are endangered in your area, whether it’s a apple variety or a local cheese. By eating them you can help save them. These foods are more than food. They are history, identity, fun, culture, geography, genetics, science, creativity and craftsmanship. And our future. “

When we increase the biodiversity of our food, we help create demand for other types of food. “We should be exposed to all of these different flavors and textures,” says Saladino. “We have the most selfish reason for being interested in diversity because we know that it matters to our well-being. “


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