Dan Saladino’s recent book Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them explores the crops disappearing due to colonization, corporate consolidation, and the climate crisis. In doing so, Saladino makes a case for preserving genetic diversity, traditional food cultures, and, ultimately, the planet.
As a radio journalist for the BBC, Saladino explains that he has spent more than a decade telling stories of different foods and the people who grow and prepare them.
“One thing that struck me was that wherever I went, I was finding stories of the people who were celebrating the particular food cultures, and the foods and ingredients, skills, [and] knowledge that was unique to their parts of the world,” Saladino tells Food Tank. “And at the same time, I discovered that there were so many people who were having to fight for [the] survival of these foods and these food cultures.”
Saladino explains that in 2007, he traveled to Sicily for a program on citrus. Despite the significance of the fruit for the local economy and culture for more than 1,000 years, Saladino met farmer after farmer who were giving up their harvests the following year. “They could no longer compete as small-scale farmers with the commodity crops that were being grown in different parts of the world.”
In Eating to Extinction, Saladino collects some of these stories that have stuck with him. His examples range from a resilient variety of wheat grown in Turkey to a nutritious root vegetable Indigenous communities cultivated in Australia. Like the citrus in Sicily, these foods are also at risk of extinction.
As these crop varieties disappear, the fragility of the food system increases, Saladino says. But spreading risks among many different crops, rather than relying on just a handful of monocultures, can increase resilience. “Agricultural biological diversity will not solve all of the world’s food problems,” Saladino tells Food Tank, “but it’s an essential component of the future of our food.”
Listen to the full conversation with Dan Saladino on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear about the link between flavor and resilience, how colonization and racism resulted in the decline of biodiversity, and the steps eaters can take to keep these foods from going extinct.
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Photo courtesy of Loren King, Unsplash