The Slow Loss of Endangered Foods

Learn how a lack of agricultural biodiversity is causing dietary issues, and threatens the disappearance of our favorite foods.


| March/April 2017


"Eating,” author, farmer and philosopher Wendell Berry says, “is an agricultural act.” Food connects us to all living things, and to the lineage of who we are and where we come from. It isn’t nameless farmers in fields and workers in factories who bring us our food; it’s people like us. People who dedicate their lives to creating something that we take into our bodies. They transform nature into culture, as what they touch becomes part of us. This intimacy is astonishing and humbling.

We treat our food system as an abstract thing; however, it’s a dynamic entity made up of these relationships. I have learned, by traveling to the places where some of our favorite foods and drinks began, that our food is precious. 

I had no idea how hard it was to get a coffee bean from a forest in Ethiopia to my local café, or how much work and care went into making a premium bar of chocolate or a hearty loaf of bread. I had no idea how endangered the best, most delicious versions of these things are. Understanding what it takes to sustain and save those foods — in farms, on our plates and in life — lies in the recognition that how we eat is a reflection of how we live. By sustaining agricultural biodiversity, we sustain ourselves.

“Eating with the fullest pleasure — pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance,” Berry adds, “is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”



The Standardized Diet

For millennia, we’ve made decisions about what to grow or not grow — and what to eat or not eat. That’s what agriculture is: a series of decisions we, and our ancestors, have made about what we want our food and food system to look and taste like. But our ability to make these decisions — and indulge in our pleasures — is being compromised in ways that are unprecedented.

While some places in the world are experiencing an increase of diversity in certain parts of their diet, the general trend is the same one we see in phones and fashion: standardization. Every place looks and tastes more similar — and the country that sets this trend is America. The refined carbohydrates, animal proteins and added fats and sugars that make up the majority of our diets have also become the template diet for the world. 







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