Endangered Food

A friend passed along a must-read article from the National Geographic about the importance and the implications of protecting different varieties of seed. It’s troubling – to say the least – to think that varieties of heirloom vegetables and grain are heading for extinction. This is one of the outcomes of modern commercial farming. Agribusiness relies heavily on growing crops that can withstand just about anything, and that will yield the most output. It’s business, right?

They consistently have to bring bushels and bushels of crop to market, and so they are using the best of science and technology to take some of the risks out of farming. This means genetically altering seed to make them resistant to drought, insects, and other environmental hazards. It means genetically splicing the most robust, highest producing seeds until we are left with the superman of all seeds. What’s wrong with efficiency and effectiveness in the name of growing business?

Well, it’s like putting all of your eggs in one basket (yes, another farm analogy!). What if something comes along, like a seed disease, and wipes out our entire crop supply because we have been relying on only one variety? That’s the crux of the National Geographic article as it thoughtfully describes several “food arks” and food banks. Smart, forward-thinking people have recognized this potentially huge problem, and have started saving and storing all types of heirloom varieties of seed. Can you imagine certain types of tomatoes, or potatoes, or corn going extinct. That’s the direction we are heading – toward one “kind” of everything under the sun, which, as someone who loves food, is very scary to me. Food will become more and more homogenized and bland. It’s something right out of the The Matrix or The Twilight Zone – everyone eating the same cereal or peas or whatever! What can you do? Support food and seed banks, and choose local and organic farm products whenever and wherever you can. Spend your dollars with smaller growers to send a message to agribusinesses to change their ways.

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4 Responses to Endangered Food

  1. Franco says:

    Andrew,
    in 1903 an average man living in the US had a life expectancy of 49.1 yrs and a woman 52 yrs. In 1983 the average had risen to 73.8 for a man and 78.1 for a woman. In 1998 it had risen even more to 73.8 and 79.5 respectively. We would not be where we are today if it wasn’t for the companies that feed us. While I agree with your thoughts about eating better foods, it begs to repeat that small farms are inefficient in producing large amounts of food, for large numbers of human beings throughout the year. While i wish that we had more farmers the reality is that in order to feed the planet there is a price we will pay. I have not heard anywhere about any program that can match what we can provide today. In addition I am skeptical of the complaints at the big bad agribusiness corporations. They have gotten big because that’s how they can produce such large amounts of food, relatively cheap. If we all could grow our own food in our own spaces they would not stay in business. I wonder how many people have ever grown a garden successfully and fed themselves the whole year.

    • andrew says:

      Thanks for the response. There has been a lot of stories in the press lately that life expectancy (LA Times to mention one)has started to slip, and they are pointing fingers at the epidemic of child obesity. Too early to get alarmed perhaps, but certainly something to keep an eye on! And another thing to think about is the eye-opening stats about food waste…anywhere from 25% to 50% of all food goes to waste. Better management of food resources – along with more education – could free up lots of food surplus for our growing population. Food for thought, indeed!

  2. Lynn says:

    Andrew, right on the money!
    Franco, while I respect your opinion consider the fact that agribusiness corporations certainly do have the means and money to revert back to organic and sustaninable practices, such as the practices of local farms, yet in many cases choose. Indeed there will be an upfront cost to switching to better products, thus meaning their profit, initally, will be slightly less; yet their ROI will undoubtedly produce commendable efforts. This module mirrors alternative energy and the common misbelief that it costs too much. While their is always a start up cost a successful business plan measures the roi and outcome, in this case the reduction of their carbon foot print while producing their product. Opinion is one thing and there is always room for open discussion, however, unfortunately in this instance, there is no debate or choice, change must happen. Slowly yes, but without hesitation; otherwise, life expectancy will mirror the times of the early 1900s. The question is not whether local farms can produce enough to feed the masses through sustainable and organic farming practices, rather, why the conventional and agribusiness corporations choose not to produce a product that is better and healthier for their buyers?

    • andrew says:

      I love you last question. I was heartened yesterday when I read an article about how Costco is partnering with organic egg farmers in 10 different regions to meet the growing demand it’s witnessing with its customers. Truly, we as consumers can create a revolution by making better buying decisions, forcing companies to change their practices to more sustainable ways of doing business.

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