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

  • Food for Friends
    Due to a standardized diet, many beloved and unique foods are disappearing.
    Photo by iStock/shironosov
  • Heirloom Tomatoes
    Heirloom plants offer much greater diversity in flavor and appearance than conventional grocery store choices.
    Photo by iStock/Funwithfood
  • Fast Food
    America is the trendsetter in the growth of the “global standard diet.”
    Photo by iStock/NeonJellyfish
  • Healthy Lunch
    Although we produce more than enough food to feed the global human population, one in five American households with children is food-insecure.
    Photo by iStock/monkeybusinessimages
  • Fresh Fruit
    Buying unusual and heirloom varieties from local producers is a great way to impact diversity on a local level.
    Photo by iStock/ErimacGroup
  • Farmers Market
    Support local agriculture and biodiversity by visiting farmers markets, and learning about where your food comes from.
    Photo by iStock/julief514
  • Local Food
    a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box is one way to stay easily connected to local food producers.
    Photo by iStock/Xesai
  • Diverse Foods
    By making simple changes to our diet, we can ensure the security of diverse foods for generations to come.
    Photo by iStock/fatihhoca
  • Bread Wine Chocolate
    Journalist and educator Simran Sethi’s book Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of the Foods We Love is about the rich history — and uncertain future — of what we eat. The book traverses six continents to uncover the loss of agricultural biodiversity, told through an exploration of the senses and the stories of bread, wine, coffee, chocolate and beer. Released in paperback in fall of 2016, this fascinating book is available for purchase at
    Cover courtesy HarperOne

  • Food for Friends
  • Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Fast Food
  • Healthy Lunch
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Farmers Market
  • Local Food
  • Diverse Foods
  • Bread Wine Chocolate

"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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