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🍏 "Could We Lose Delicious Foods Forever?"

Vox Conversations

Photo by Ma Ti / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Benji Jones
Guest: Dan Saladino | Food Journalist & Author
Category: 🍏 Sustainable Food

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:31] BJ: “I've got some bad news if you have trouble waking up in the morning. Coffee as we know it is in danger. The entire multibillion dollar industry is built on just two species of coffee plants. One of them doesn't taste very good. And the other, the one you'd likely drink, is under attack from climate change and deadly fungal disease. […] The good news is that there is another kind of coffee out there. It's called stenophylla. Stenophylla is more resilient in the face of climate change and disease. And it also tastes great. So theoretically, it could take the place of the coffee we currently consume. But there's a catch. […] Stenophylla is super rare in the wild. In fact, for a long time, scientists thought it was extinct. Failing to save this rare plant puts the future of coffee culture at risk. But the thing is, it's not just varieties of coffee that are both rare and important to us. Ancient kinds of wheat, corn, citrus, chocolate, and even wine are threatened with extinction. […] That makes our global food system far less resilient.”

[6:27] DS: “I traveled to a place very close to the Etna volcano, where the blood oranges grow. And I was visiting some small scale family farms and expecting to arrive and be told this wonderful, glorious celebratory tale of harvest and […] 1,000 years of history of citrus. And many of them were telling me it was the last year that they were going to be harvesting their oranges. And the reason being that there was this cheaper citrus that was coming from other parts of the world that was being imported into Italy and they just could not compete. […] These oranges were going to be placed in something called the Ark of Taste, […] [which] is this catalog that [the Slow Food] movement had created to capture the stories of endangered foods. Now there are more than 5,000 of these endangered foods in the catalog from 130 countries.

[12:26] DS: “The first farmers took wild grasses and domesticated them and they became wheat and barley. They then spread it to different parts of the world in which those plants then adapted, and then had huge amounts of variation in the kinds of environmental conditions that they thrived in, but also the cultural kind of adaptations as well, so different colors and flavors. In the 20th century, we have been so successful at narrowing that genetic base to find the highest yielding plants. And that most famously, was the story of the green revolution. And it delivered huge amounts of food and calories and energy, globally. But it did that by selecting an extremely narrow genetic base for our food.

[13:39] DS: “The idea of this uniformity of crops and monocultures, take oil, palm, or soy, and the amount of biodiversity lost in producing those crops that then feed the livestock that we consume again. […] So an extremely narrow genetic base in animal breeds is now fed by an extremely narrow base of these legumes as a source of protein. So that's one relationship between endangered foods, uniformity of the modern food system, and biodiversity loss. But there is also the environmental costs of that system as well. So huge amounts of water are being used in this post green revolution food system, huge amounts of chemicals being used, […] and huge amounts of fossil fuels being used in the production of synthetic fertilizers, as well. And again, think about the impact that that is having globally when it comes to climate and other pressures on ecosystems.”

[18:14] DS: “There is a type of lentil in the southern part of Germany, which [is in] really difficult conditions to survive and farm at really rocky, high altitude. But in this region of Swabia the farmers had this secret weapon, which was a type of lentil that they could use and it provided protein. They had this dish where they mixed it with wheat noodles. So culturally important, agriculturally essential in that region for centuries. Canada starts to produce lentils on a mass scale and at the same time, Germany is having its industrial boom postwar, and so their lentil disappears. A farmer in Swabia spent 20 years tracking down the last lentil and contacted all of the seed banks around the world, including the USDA, others, and there was no sign of this lentil. He then traveled with a small group of farmers to Russia, to […] the first seed bank founded in the world. It turns out, they did have it but they've mislabeled it […]. For him, this lentil represented a way of life, a farming system and their culture, and he's pulled it off. Hundreds of farmers now in that region are growing that lentil and it's delicious.”

[38:11] DS: “In writing the book [there was] huge sadness at the fact that this process is still continuing. And it will no doubt continue in many forms for a very long time to come of many complex reasons behind that. But I think that this homogenization of food and farming will continue. And it's a tragedy for the planet. It's a tragedy for our health. Culturally, it's an awful thing to see these skills and knowledge and wisdom disappearing with each generation.”

[42:55] DS: “Going back to that idea of the building blocks, the foundations of the food system and one of those clearly is seeds. And seeds after the Second World War, particularly because […] of chemical inputs following the green revolution, it’s no surprise […] that it was chemical companies that then stepped in and started to buy up lots of small family seed companies. Because they produced the chemicals that were required by this new farming system and the seeds. And now we have more than 50% of the global production and trading seeds in the hands of just four corporations. The same consolidation also exists in livestock. So there are three globally important breeds of chicken, for example, in the hands of just two corporations.

[1:03:34] DS: “I think, we have the most selfish reasons to embrace diversity now, which is our own health. And we know what's happening in many parts of the world in terms of type two diabetes, and cancers and other things that we know have a food dimension to these illnesses. […] So perhaps we will be motivated by health and food businesses will be motivated by our health to try and bring diversity back into the food system because science says it needs to.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 1 hr 6 min | 🗓️ 02/17/2022
✅ Time saved: 1 hr 4 min

Additional Links:
Book: “Eating to Extinction” (Dan Saladino, 2022)