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
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