Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Eat Local - REAL LOCAL

The 100 mile diet and its local diet cousins have had a powerful impact on our thinking about food. The word "local" now has true currency in the food world, and thousands of farms have new customers. The 100 mile diet was a terrific beginning. Now we need to start taking the next step towards local *cuisines* not just diets. I've written a bit about how to modify our current local diets here, about the "bullseye diet" that helps refine one's foodshed still further, but today I want to talk about what living local would really mean.

A recent study shows that food miles are simply more complicated than we thought. For example, a recent study done at Lincoln University in New Zealand found that food miles don't tell the whole story when comparing food's impact. Lamb imported from NZ to Britain often emitted less total carbon because supplemental feeding wasn't necessary in NZ, as it was in Britain. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/06/03/nrgreen03.xml&page=1

Now this seems like bad news for the local food movement, but it isn't really. Instead, it should be a wakeup call to us that duplicating the classic, homogenized western diet isn't really the goal of local eating. Right now, we're still thinking in terms of growing tomatoes everywhere, and that's fine to an extent. But every food region in the world has foods that are particularly adapted to or indigenous to their region, and these are the foods on which local cuisines are based. Think about it - remnents of local diets still exist as local specialities. When you go to Emilia-Romagna you eat different foods than when you go to Tuscany. When you go to Boston, you eat fish, not bananas. You can get a loaf of bread on Bali, but the real food is based on rice. We cannot build a local food movement based entirely on the notion that you grow salad greens everywhere.

Well the reason these remarkable, flavorful, amazing local diets and specialties evolved as they did is simple - not all foods are available everywhere. So most societies developed a local cuisine based on what grew best and most sustainably where they were. And if we are to eat locally again in a real and practical sense, that will mean eating a truly localized, specialized diet. Now that sounds scary to us - we've gotten accustomed to eating what we want, when we want. This sounds as though it would be a vast reduction in diversity. But, the reality is that our current diets aren't very diverse. 90% of the western diet is made up of just 14 species of plant and animal that we eat over and over again. And corn is at the root of almost 70% of our food - as animal feed, processed into corn syrup and integrated into our meals at every step.

In fact, most of us eat fairly narrow diets now, despite our perception of diversity. A truly local diet wouldn't give us less diversity in any meaningful sense. Nor would it make us less happy - most people *love* their staple cuisines. The average Italian woman isn't aching to give up her pasta, the Mexican woman her tortillas, the Frenchman his bread or the Vietnamese man his rice. In fact, it doesn't feel like a meal without them. Despite the values of fusion cuisines, to a large degree, all of the great foods of history come out of specific places, with specific soils and specific foods. Just as the discipline of the sonnet or the dance position enable us to be free in other ways, the limitations of local are the beginning of food as art, as culture, as uniquely ours.

Right now, for the most part, our 100 mile diets look a lot like everyone else's 100 mile diets. Farmers are mostly growing the same crops, during the same seasons that everyone else does. And this was fine as a beginning, but we can't base either a true local cuisine or a low energy, low carbon society on diets that aren't local to their soils, their climate, their agriculture. The first step is getting to know your region. The reality is that while there's no need to eliminate things that require some extra effort, the basis of our diet is and will be things that grow well where we are.

For example, I live in the cold, hilly, rocky, rainy, snowy northeast (at least until climate change turns it into something else). My land gets more than 50 inches of rain per year, and has fewer than 10 days over 90 degrees most years. Even in the hottest weather, most nights are in the 60s, and we often fall into the 40s even in high summer. Hills are steep, and often can't grow vegetables or grains without significant terracing. The growing season runs from April to October, although in my specific location, it is often too wet to plant before late April. The soils have heavy leaching of nutrients, are fairly acidic and generally need lots of organic matter, especially on the clay. There are better soils in the valleys and river plateaus nearby that are suited to other plants, including naturally high-lime soils good for growing things like alfalfa.

So what would my local diet look like? It would probably be low in heat loving plants that go dormant when night temperatures fall below 50, like hot peppers, okra and eggplant. It isn't that I can't grow them - I can and I do - but they wouldn't be staples of my diet, except to the extent that they can be easily preserved. Plants that need hotbeds or starting indoors would be less likely to be major crops than those that could be direct seeded, particularly in a lower energy society when artificial lights and heat were less available. So while I would grow tomatoes, I would probably prioritize short season varieties, and things like currant tomatoes which reliably self-sow.

I probably would grow plants that tolerate some acidity, like corn and potatoes, more than those that need a very neutral soil, although wood ash is added to the soil. Small grains simply don't do as well here, although my neighbors in the Schoharie Valley, which was the breadbasket of the American Revolution, could grow wheat. Amaranth grows marvelously here, and would be a good supplement, and oats tolerate wet conditions and leached soil better than wheat does, so I might grow them as a supplemental crop. Buckwheat does well in our summers.

Because I have a lot of land too hilly to till, it would make the most sense to graze animals on it, and eat the animals or drink their milk. Because the land tends to be wet, I'd like a breed that tolerates wet conditions well, and because it gets very cold, one that is thrifty on pasture and winters well with little grain. Romney, Icelandic, Soay or other sheep might well fit the bill, as would Scottish Highland or Dexter cattle. Milk would be a good summer crop - cows that can produce enough milk on grass alone make sense here because ample rain means that our pasture rarely goes dormant. If I didn't keep kosher, I might raise pigs in my woods, to eat the acorns.

Soybeans do acceptably here, but New England bred bean varieties like Jacob's Cattle and Maine Yellow Eye do better still. Favas do well as well, and I think garbanzos might be expandable. Peas do very well indeed. But beans like limas, black beans and pintos are simply high effort crops to grow on a field scale.

For oils, butter would probably make the most sense, although we're experimenting with oilseed pumpkins and sunflowers do quite well here. We can certainly grow mustard in the summers, and mustardseed oil is quite delicious.

We can grow leafy greens easily all summer - we don't have problems with bolting here. The same is true for cole crops and almost all roots. And we need roots because they store so well over the winter. Onions are particularly well suited to the sulfuric soils we have - they grow well, store well, and add a lot of flavor to our food, as does the garlic.

Herbs that do well here include coriander/cilantro, dill, basil, mints, fennel, cumin, chives, sage and many others. These might be primary flavoring agents. I could look back to traditional local flavorings like wintergreen berries and rosewater. Sour, lemony sumac could replace lemons for both vitamin c and flavor, as could apple cider vinegars. Wild thyme and other herbs could be integrated more fully into pastures to give local milks, butters and cheeses indigenous flavors.

Apples, hazelnuts, black walnuts, hickory nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinces, plums, pears, raspberries, strawberries, and many indigenous fruits of cold climates like lingonberries and sea buckthorn would probably become the primary fruits, along with many others. Wild mushrooms, wild greens and other wild foods would be daily additions.

There are minor crops that would almost certainly add to the variety of our diets. Jerusalem artichokes and groundnuts, grown together might provide a staple starch-protein combination. A full exploration of what can and should grow here might help us evolve a more complex and exciting diet.

What would it look like? What would I eat? What would tourists who visited come home raving about? Perhaps they'd come in summer, when my diet was a lot like everyone's. A smaller portion of my garden might be in tomatoes and peppers and more in beets and greens, but generally speaking, they would enjoy my local summer foods. We might have an omlet filled with asparagus, local goat cheese and sauteed in butter. Come fall, they obvious things - pumpkins, squash and roots would dominate the diet, and there would be considerably more meat, because it would simply make sense to butcher animals at fall festivals, rather than feed them over the winter. Milk would disappear, and be replaced by cheese.

In the fall we might drink cider, eat a stew of root vegetables and dried beans in broth, and a side of broccoli with cheese sauce.

In the winter, there would be few eggs (not enough light), and no milk, but an ample supply of potatoes, buckwheat for pancakes, cheese, some meat, and all the pleasures of cold weather and hearty stews and soups. It would not be difficult to keep some greens going over the winter as well. Winter would be a time for parties and celebrations. Cider would be hard and the beer would be ready.

Spring would come with its foods as well - the burst of eggs and wild greens, fresh new milk and and the remnents of winter. Now is the time for mashed potato cakes with dandilion greens, for rhubarb-apple sauce with the last stored apples and the first rhubarb, and the first spears of asparagus.

What's missing? Olive oil, meat in spring and summer, large quantities of bread and wheat. Some flavors have been replaced - my hummus might be made with fava beans, there's rosewater instead of vanilla in my pudding, a heavier use of indigenous herbs, the slight change of taste from different oils and different ingredients. Textures and smells, undertones and topnotes - all are specific, local. Over time, they will become transcendent.

The study mentioned above compared the same varieties of sheep, using the same practices of management in different places. Perhaps the British need to eat less lamb, or perhaps they need to raise it differently. Perhaps different breeds, like the landraces that evolved over centuries are more appropriate. But a truly local diet must eventually emerge from a low energy society, and there's no reason for us to fear it - we should, in fact, embrace the beginnings of our local cuisines.

Sharon

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

As usual, Sharon, you make good sense, but I do not think the NY Times article is all that significant.

Beware of big generalizations based on single studies. Especially those written by interested parties (New Zealand researchers and lamb exporting.)

Even the author of the NY Times article noted that the conflict of interest.

Bart
Energy Bulletin

jewishfarmer said...

Bart, I agree that the article and the study aren't that important. What interests me is that they've got a finger on the larger point - that if a local diet is to be made reproducable, sustainable and low carbon, it is going to have to be really local.

I also think these things get into the backs of people's heads. For example, that study that came out last year from the southwest that argued that people drive further to get local food, so supermarkets are better has permeated the consciousness of a number of my customers who really are worried about it. The study itself may not matter that much, but the questions it raised ought to be addressed, IMHO.

Sharon

Anonymous said...

I was going to email you the link -- but you've got there first.

My first thought as I read it was, why not eat what you've got.

MEA

Anonymous said...

Anybody interested in these issues should check out www.slowfoodusa.org

In choosing what to grow/raise for yourself, consider not only what optimally can be grown locally, but also those foods which will grow with extra effort that, if purchased commercially from some distant land, have lost flavor and racked up a huge energy footprint.

For example, my family will not give up bananas simply because the ones sold come from 1000-2000 miles away without straining the family bonds big time. We grow some organic bananas in my yard, not because we have ideal conditions (we don't), but because I cannot buy these wonderfully flavorful Brazilian bananas anywhere and because of the large footprint commercial bananas embody.

Richard

Anonymous said...

In terms of real local, I've decided to grow a lot of spuds next year. It may seem silly since they are not only cheap, but grow locally in NJ. However, they are something I can grow with consistant yields, the deer don't bother them, and they are a pretty good stable.

MEA

shadowfoot said...

Another good post. Although as to no meat in spring/summer, lambing is in early spring, so there might be some lamb available later in the summer (I don't know when lambs are generally butchered).

And then, there's always fishing. And leftover smoked/brined/jerked meat from winter time. (Don't scare the meat lovers toooo much!) But it would definitely take forethought and planning to ensure one had some meat year-round, if that were desired. Much as it will take forethought and planning to make enough cheese for the winter.

I prefer cheese to milk anyway, so I'd want to plan for having/making cheese year-round. I get plenty of calcium from kale and such, so milk isn't a big thing. Now ice cream -- that would definitely become a summer treat!

jewishfarmer said...

Hi Shadowfoot -

You could butcher lamb early, and certainly serve whole lamb or kid small as many cultures do, but generally speaking, your best return on investment comes when you have the animals gain as much weight as possible on grass and then butcher when the grass begins to go dormant. It isn't that summer meat would be impossible - but meat and eggs have traditional seasonality as well.

Unfortunately, I don't live near an ocean, and I wouldn't eat fish from any stream in my state - too much crap in the water. I'm interested in aquaculture though, and that might be an option.

There's so much else to eat during the summer, though, that I think we could all adapt pretty well. And other regions would have other cuisines and timing of foods.

Sharon in upstate NY

Beth said...

Hi Sharon -

Thanks for the interesting post. I don't have a yard where I live now but will be moving to a house in the Pacific Northwest next year where I will be able to start a small garden (yay!). I knew there were a lot of things to think about, but I never even considered thinking about things like soil acidity and leaching. Do you have any information (good books, etc) for a brand new gardener on where I can learn about these things? (I have so many questions!)

Deb G said...

Really like what you've written here. I've been planning on doing some research on what grain I could grow successfully (Pacific Northwest, the maritime part), I've been suspecting it's amaranth. I'm also inspired to start making my own hazelnut butter instead of peanut butter.

The hardest part for me is giving up, or at least limiting, some of the foods that are a part of my cultural heritage since they don't grow in the climate I live in....and chocolate of course.

Anonymous said...

For an excellent Pacific NW gardening book check out- _Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades_ by Steve Soloman. This book covers the peculiarities of our region, written by the man who started Territorial Seeds. It's a must have.

homebrewlibrarian said...

And then there's the Alaska voice... I've been thinking about what is local food here. There are some plants that are used like vegetables but they are few. Most of the native plants are used medicinally. What there is in abundance here is berries, fish and game animals. These, of course, all have seasons (some natural, some manmade). Right now it's berries and fish and in the fall is the hunting season, mostly for moose and caribou. During the winter it's nothing at all unless you're serious about hunting and even Native peoples only do that under duress.

But there are farms that grow typical American produce in fields (except for corn, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers which have to be grown in greenhouses) but the growing season is much shorter here. Cool weather vegies grow best here which should come as no surprise. The real trick is to grow and harvest plants before they bolt. Alaska has more than an abundance of light in the summer and this causes many of the salad greens to bolt really quickly. Folks have spent a lot of time developing seeds for Alaska seasons but bolting is still an issue for some plants. But not zucchini. Alaskans have the same problem of too much zucchini as do others farther south. Who would have guessed...

It's an interesting exercise to figure out how local is local when getting food in Alaska. I've been able to track down raw milk, pastured eggs and organic American vegetables but not pastured beef, lamb, goat or pig. There are folks who raise those meat animals but usually for their own consumption. I don't live in a coastal area and not in a Native village so sea animals are not something I can supplement my diet with. I'm hoping to see if I can work deals with hunters to exchange meat for something (what, I don't know yet) for the winter months. Next year, I'm going to get a fishing license and hang with friends who set up nets to catch salmon. This weekend I'm going foraging for berries, mostly raspberries, but if I can track down blueberries, gooseberries, cloudberries and any other berry, I'll be gathering them, too.

It's a strange mix of Native and not so Native foods. Farms that grow American vegetables seem to hang on by their nails because of the short growing season. Foraged and hunted foods are pretty normal even for urban folks. This is Alaska after all. Where it's difficult is figuring out the seasons for things and when to start putting up everything to get you to the next foraging and hunting period.

The Athabaskans, Inuit, Y'upik, Haida, Tshimian and other Native peoples made it work for thousands of years. None of them had the same food stuffs available to them either. Some were peoples who lived in the interior of Alaska, nowhere near the ocean. Others lived in the more hospitable southeastern area and some lived along the rather difficult western and northern coastal areas. Some lived out along the Aleutian islands which is about as austere as it gets. Obtaining food in this place is not a given if you don't have a grocery store on the corner. And that's most of this state.

Someday, I'd like to actually put together a Native foods meal, specific to this area of Alaska. I'm sure it would be very different from what even my most open minded friends have had before. It would also be different depending on the season. Spring you get all sorts of new growth you can nibble on but only dried fish and meats. Summer is fresh fish, berries and a few vegies. Fall it's game animals, fish and some berries. Winter it's dried everything you got earlier in the year that could be dried or somehow preserved. How very different from even a canned jar of tomatoes!

I'm not going to go all Native in my diet because I simply don't have the background and training. I can't fish or hunt and I can't tell one plant from another most of the time. But that doesn't mean I'm heading off to the corner grocery store for food. I'll still support the local dairy, CSA and chicken ranch even if it isn't "native" to Alaska. Hopefully I'll build relationships with people who do have more experience with subsistance living that will allow me to truly eat more locally. Sharon, you're totally correct. If I'm to survive and thrive in this place, I have to make a good portion of my diet from local native foods. Won't be easy but I'm up for the challenge.

Kerri

Christina said...

Sharon - you don't mention rye or barley - don't they grow well in your area? In cold, rainy Northern Europe they are a staple for making bread and beer. People in Northern Scandinavia make a very good flatbread from barley, sometimes mixed with finely ground peas. Very nice eaten with some (local) cheese. Dark rye bread is a traditional Swedish staple food.

Apart from that our local diets are surprisingly similar! We grow potatoes, onions, several kinds of root vegetables, fava beans, runner beans and different kinds of peas, including an old variety that I will use for bread-making and tasty pea soup in winter.

These are our staple foods. We also grow smaller quantities of tomatoes, cucumbers (pickling varieties - don't have a greenhouse), squash and pumpkins, salad greens and various other veggies and herbs. Rhubarb and berries of course, and we're going to plant apple trees (though we're are often given surplus apples from our neighbours). We pick blueberries, lingonberries, wild raspberries and mushrooms in the woods.

Fairly local eggs, honey, dairy, meat and flour can usually be bought. But we also buy some things that are not local at all, some of which we would miss very much if we couldn't get them - eg. olive oil, some imported cheese, bananas, citrus fruits and spices.

Coffee and tea. And sugar and salt of course - I would find it hard to preserve things without them. I could dry the berries, I guess... but I really love my homemade bread with blackcurrant jam and a pot of hot tea on a cold winter morning!

Christina
in SW Sweden

Anonymous said...

Nice post. One also needs to be aware of how to use the locally available crops correctly and safely. I live in the St. Louis area (two days into a 5-day heat wave, I would gladely trade you) and have spent some time looking into what crops grow around here, should long-distance transport of bulky staples become unaffordably expensive. Sadly, lentils and chickpeas don't do well here either, which pretty much rules out everything I know how to cook. But, within 50-100 miles of here, literally hundreds of millions of bushels of corn and soybeans are grown, and where soybeans are grown beans could be grown at lower yields if the market demanded. Even with yields cut in half, there would be enough to sustain a major city, so contra the doomer-fanatics, I'm confident that we won't starve.

OTOH, I know there are compounds in corn that are actually anti-nutrient, that prevent vitamin absorption so that you're guaranteed to become malnourished living on plain corn. I know that in traditional Mexican cooking, corn is treated with lye to mitigate that problem, but I don't know how to do that or at what stages of processing it must be done. It probably has not been done to the cornmeal I buy. That's fine when I eat polenta once a month, but if I were eating it every day, is there some way to make it more healthful without getting a mouthful of lye? Something to look into.

Anonymous said...

Sharon wrote:
The study itself may not matter that much, but the questions it raised ought to be addressed, IMHO.

Agree completely, and I like the way you use the article as a springboard to talk about something meaningful.

What I'm getting at, is that there seems to be a pattern in the anti-localization campaign. Both the New York Times article and the UK Times article you recently rebutted are based on a rather slim selection of facts. Intellectually they are low quality.

And yet, they reverberate. As poor as the arguments are, people read the headlines and say, "Local food has been debunked!"

You in your blog, and many others are writing good sense, being reasonable and forward looking. But we are in a small corner of the blogosphere and they are leading world newspapers.

At least some of us should be picking apart the poor quality of articles like these, and demanding better.

If we are not attuned to bad logic and bad argument, we will be vulnerable to an unending stream of propaganda.

Keep up the good work,
BA
Energy Bulletin

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kerri. I'm glad you aren't going all native in your diet simply becuase (as I understand it) that diet was able to susbtain a much small population than currently lives in Alaska. From what little I've read about life up the, it seems to depend very much on small air craft, though that may be (and I hope it is) a misconception on my part.

Re: the article, someone who knows I'm working on an "Eat locally, act gobally" talk for church sent it to me saying, in essence, you are just going to do more harm than good. This proves we should keep doing what we are doing.

And, in reponse to Sharon's deconstruction, I'm giving up drinking milk.

MEA

jewishfarmer said...

Anonymous, if corn is your major dietary staple, it needs to be nixtamalized - that is, an alkaline substance has to be added to release the niacin. Otherwise, you can get pellagra (adults) or kwashiorkor (newly weaned children). The simplest way to do this with conventionally available ingredients is to use baking soda or lye to soak the corn with. The corn expands and the hulls come off and you can either eat this way (hominy) or you can dry and grind it and make masa for breads or tortillas.

But the native peoples of Mexico simply added hard wood ashes to their pots of posole and other corn foods, and that works too.

MEA, I'm not giving milk up yet - at least not in summer. Our local dairy is growing their own corn for feed and much of the cow's summer food is provided from grass.

Next step here is our own goats, and we'll be experimenting with how much milk can be produced and how sustainably.

Christina, I have grown barley locally, and winter rye as a crop, but I've not seen any grown here closer than Canada - but we probably could grow them. I've been assuming that the flat, grain suited land would be mostly used for wheat, but there's no empirical reason why that must be.

Sharon

Anonymous said...

I think you're onto something here - the message is not "eat locally produced", but "eat what is naturally growing local".
I do believe that indeed a NZ lamb exported to the UK would have a lesser carbon footprint than an UK raised lamb. Which really signals that you should eat less lamb in the UK (or change the way you produce it), and not that you should eat only lamb produced in the UK at a high carbon cost. If you must eat lamb, then at least import it from NZ to save on carbon.
Living in NZ I can eat lamb without feeling guilty, but I should cut down on other exotic food that can not be produced here are at a reasonable (carbon) cost.
And as the report re lamb food miles was written as a defense against a biased UK report, of course there is a conflict of interest (in both cases!!). Which does not prove which one is true - for that one needs to study the facts, which imo lie more on the NZ side. But that all is beside the point - if you can't raise lamb at an acceptable carbon cost in the UK, then you really should eat less of it, not artificially try to subsidise the local grower
another Bart

homebrewlibrarian said...

MEA - You're correct in that the truly remote Native villages rely on air transport to get supplies. But the reason they depend so heavily on air transport is that have mostly abandoned their traditional foodways and subsistance lifestyle. A lot of what gets transported out to the villages is fuel or heating oil. Everyone has gone to motor boats, four wheelers and snowmachines and all the houses are inefficiently made which requires considerable heating oil to be bearable through the winter. A Western lifestyle was imposed on these people and after a couple generations has become the norm. I think Native folks of my generation and earlier still have some memory of their traditional life but the younger ones really don't. So now they are trying to exist using an artifical (for the local environment anyway) lifestyle and having a really difficult time doing it.

I couldn't eat all Native because I neither grew up with it nor do I know anyone who could instruct me. Even if there was a surge in interest across the state, I doubt it would make much impact on the available resources. There are less than 700,000 people in the entire state and the land mass is roughly equal to one third of the land mass of the contiguous 48 states. 260,000 of them live in Anchorage alone. Another 90,000 live in Fairbanks and 30,000 live in Juneau. That's about half of the population in the state just in those three cities. The rest of the state has settled areas with mostly under 2000 living near each other. There are some villages of a couple hundred or just a few dozen inhabitants. If you subtract the city folks, there's still way more resources than people to use them up. If I were to begin to rely on hunted and foraged foods, I would not worry about depleting the environment.

As for consuming things in their season, I would have dropped out of the raw milk group during the winter except that the various milk groups are what's holding this dairy together. There are four operating dairies in the state and all are having difficulty because the one state owned creamery is having all sorts of financial problems. This particular dairy found out about cow share programs a year or so ago and gave it a try. Response has been overwhelming and seems to keep growing by the second. I met a lady who lives at least four hours away who has joined this group because that's the closest raw milk gets to her. To drop out during the winter to reflect seasonability could cause problems for the dairy. So I'm going to continue to get milk through the winter although I realize that there will be a drop in nutrional quality. So I'm in through winter because I want to have access to the milk come spring and all that new, new grass.

Sometimes it's more important to help out the local food providers than to be slavishly seasonable.

Kerri

Kerri

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering what might be the 14 species that Western diet is based on. Thinking on what I eat, I would list Corn, beef, chicken, pig, potatoes, wheat, tuna, turkey, beans, coffee, tea, sugar, oatmeal, rice.

Does anyone have a refrence that this quote may based on or additions/subtractions to the list?

thanks
Bob Z in NE Pa

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info about Alaska. As for milk -- even though I buy it from an outlet that uses only organic feed and no antibiotics, it's still a feed lot opperation. If I could get it from a small farm (raw would be best) were the beasts were grass fed, I would. I'm still going to buy cheese from such an farm.

Best,

MEA

Anonymous said...

Sharon,

On a message board that I frequent (The Straight Dope - http://boards.straightdope.com) someone asked about your comment "90% of the western diet is made up of just 14 species of plant and animal that we eat over and over again.". After reading their conjecture (no one has yet figured it out) I thought I would just come ask! So... can you let us know where that figure comes from? Thanks!

Lisa in Oregon said...

The 100-mile diet site brought up again the off-repeated saying that only N species make up M% of our diet. No one ever provides which species, so I went searching and found an interesting paper.

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1999/v4-104.html
New Crops and the Search for New Food Resources, by Jules Janick

Some exerpts:
...there may be 350,000 plant species of which it is estimated about 80,000
are edible. However, at present only about 150 species are actively
cultivated, and of these, 30 produce 95% of human calories and proteins
(Menini 1998). About half of our food derives from only four plant species
(rice, maize, wheat, and potato) and three animal species (cattle, swine,
and poultry).

[The 30 species that make up the 95%, and the amount of each that was
produced in 1995. I'm guessing this includes the amounts fed to animals
and used in manufacturing, etc., as well as consumed directly or wasted -
so it's not perfectly correlated to what what people eat]

...
Table 2. The 30 major food crops, 1995 (megatonnes).

Cereals
wheat (554), rice (551), maize (515), barley (143), sorghum (54), oat (29), millet (27), rye (23)

Oilseeds and Legumes
soybean (126), cottonseed (58), coconut (47), rapeseed/canola (35), peanut (29), sunflower (27)

Vegetables
tomato (84), cabbage (46), watermelon (40), onion (37), bean (18)

Fruits
banana/plantain (85), orange (57), grape (55), apple (50), mango (19)

Tubers
potato (285), cassava (164), sweetpotato (136), yam (33)

Sugar crops
sugarcane (1168), sugarbeet (265)

Anonymous said...

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Even the author of the NY Times article noted that the conflict of interest.

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