Eating to extinction

I have just finished reading Eating to Extinction, by Dan Saladino. It’s an ambitious, immersive and important book. Saladino has made a tour of the world’s vanishing foods – its animals, vegetables, crops, and shown us why retaining diversity in the food chain matters so much.

This engaging and readable book takes us with Dan Saladino as he visits Hadza hunter-gatherers in Tanzania in quest of wild honeys – they’re the very last people to be constantly on the move, with no settled place to call home – they have lived successfully with no possessions, no money and no leaders. In Australia, he’s shown murnong, a radish like root once prized by the aboriginal people, and all but obliterated by introduced over-grazing sheep. Bere is an ancient barley adapted to the harsh conditions in Orkneyn Orkney. There are Swabian lentil growers; apple growers in Kazakhstan; Skerpikjøt, the wind-dried mutton of the Faroes …. and so many more. Each adventure, to areas where local custom and traditional ways of life remain strong is full of interest, and leaves me with a desire to try the foods and drink he sampled. It also leaves me with a determination to do what I can to support the remaining foods being saved by passionate and committed producers.

Disease can rampage through a single variety at horrifying speed, and if that variety is all we have, the consequences are obvious. Too many of our foodstuffs are in too few hands. The cultures that are injected into our cheeses worldwide to make them what they are are in the hands of some 5 suppliers. The cattle we breed are – worldwide – largely a single breed. Seeds in every continent are in the hands of just four corporations,. Thousands upon thousands of local varieties, bred over the centuries to suit local conditions have been lost forever. So many of the foods we rely on – animal and vegetable – once developed to suit particular soils and climate have been wiped out or, if lucky, painstakingly recovered from a vanishingly small stock pile by some single-minded enthusiast. Now, most foods are grown as a one-size-fits-all.

Whereas foodstuffs used to be so different and varied from one country and region to the next, now the entire world derives 50 % of its calorie-intake from just three foods: wheat, corn and rice. The fast-food burger is becoming a world-wide phenomenon. Saladino shows us that besides this being so dangerous – an epidemic could wipe away a foodstuff completely – it’s also impoverishing our diets, and the rich variety of local foods. He discusses globalisation, the crippling effects of war and climate change. The good news is: with a lot of hard work and good will, it’s not quite too late to stop the rot.

The most important book I’ll read this year. And one of the most interesting.

For Gumtrees and Galaxies: Gaia Nature Reading Challenge

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

26 thoughts on “Eating to extinction”

    1. It is Becky. And while reading this book might make an already terrified person even more so, there is hope here too. I think this is your kinda book (purchased in Oxfam for £1.85!).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This sounds both sobering and fascinating. Things have gone horribly wrong in the food industry resulting in all sorts of fallout for our own health, for the welfare of animals and for the environment. I’d also recommend Tim Spector’s The Diet Myth if you’ve not come across it. His research into gut bacteria is very persuasive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Margaret, this is frankly too scary for me. For once, I simply don’t want to know anything even more devasting than all and everything I already know.
    We eat at places who source all their produce locally, and if possible, organically. In our case, we will have our 25th wedding anniversary at a small restaurant, where the potatoes for the gratin are from an organic producer (Demeter) 2km away, the beef from a rare cattle breed 3km and free range, the eggs for the ravioli from happy chicken nearby, etc. We pay a lot more than at another, also very good place, but we rather have this and not a fancy holiday. At home I use whenever possible local produce, not necessary organically grown stuff. But I just can’t anymore do more ….
    For 2 quid I wd have bought that book too….


    1. Well, what is going on? I just found your comment when I checked my spam box! I guessed you would be someone who would do what you could to support a more thoughtful food chain. Like you, we eat seasonally and organically, and support small producers where possible. It’s difficult to know what more mere individuals can do. Keep fighting the good fight!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post to bring this book focussing on such an existential issue to our attention. I am guessing that’s the Dan Saladino you sometimes here on Radio 4’s Food Programme? Honestly it’s hard to know where to start. It’s as though environmentalists, ecologists, nutritionists, well the whole of biological science actually, had never discovered how organic life cycles function and how diversity is key. Nothing about industrial scale agriculture brings benefits for life on this planet, except fat bank balances for the food multinationals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Dan Saladino is indeed one of the presenters of The Food Programme. You’d think that anyone with a working knowledge of O Level Biology could understand organic life cycles, which seem to have worked in our favour for centuries. And understand that diversity is important in keeping any species vibrant and strong. Thinking that mankind was cleverer than that has a lot to answer for.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. All true and all scary. I’m a vegetarian, which doesn’t get queried as much as it used to. Years ago I would get really annoyed with people telling me it wasn’t ‘natural’ when there is nothing natural about today’s agribusiness. (Not saying vegetarianism food is automatically naturally produced, it isn’t, just the doublethink annoyed me).

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    1. I quite agree. I’m not vegetarian, but eat very little meat, and try to ensure that the little I have is carefully sourced. My daughter lives in Spain, and IS fully vegetarian. She has to be quite strong-minded and dedicated, as it’s not well understood. I’m not tempted by plant-based ‘meats’. Vegetables and legumes seem to me to offer sufficient variety and interesting tastes to keep me happy. But at least people are talking about the issues these days.


      1. Oh yes, Spain is hard! We do eat some veggie sausages and such like because John is a meat eater and it’s a compromise. We don’t have real meat in the house (at least not since we were owned by cats). I always thought he would eventually follow me into vegetarianism, but after 40 years I don’t think so.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow what an important book. I am with you on re-discovering and using the lost foods. I am familiar with the murnong, it looks like a dandelion and is a type of yam, it and many other native foods are being re-discovered, cultivated and eaten again in Australia. It makes me angry that we so callously disregarded the knowledge and culture of our first nations people. We have some absolutely wonderful but poorly known foods here, finger lime, Davidson plum, which is a type of rainforest fruit and my personal favourite, kakadu plum, saltbush and jilungin, just to name a few. I will seek out this title, it sounds like a very good read indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was astounded by some of the foods Saladino celebrated. And yes, Australia sounds to have suffered a great deal from the Invasion of the Ungulate. Hope you manage to source this book. It’s very readable indeed.


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