90% of Vegetable Varieties Gone Forever?
Playing favorites – we’re all doing it. On every level, from the farmers to the shoppers, Americans are becoming more and more selective about exactly which kind of cucumber, tomato, or lettuce they want. This chart from National Geographic is based on a study conducted in 1983 that demonstrated that 90% of the vegetable varieties that we ate one hundred years ago are now extinct. As a nation we’re relying on just “a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables.”
This is not good news. Whether you’re wearing your ecologist hat or your economist hat, you should be pretty concerned. In ecology this issue is referred to as loss of biodiversity, which basically means loss of variety of living things. Letting species go extinct is one way to deplete the natural variety of living things, or biodiversity of an ecosystem. Hint: We want to do the opposite!
But if we switch hats, it doesn’t get any better. As far as economics goes, we’re pretty much playing a game of vegetable monopoly. Consider this: the population is getting bigger and bigger, while food variety is getting smaller and smaller. We have a large population that depends on being fed by just a small number of crops. What happens to the industry if one of those crops becomes susceptible to some sort of disease? Not to mention the people relying on that crop for food?
The solution to this problem is all about choices. We can still play favorites, but let’s broaden our horizons. Instead of buying the same ol’ apples you always buy, go on a quest to find the best apples. Try an heirloom variety of apple. Better yet, try the heirloom apples from the farm down the road. You never know, you might find something local, and in season that, because of these things, is fresher, tastier, and supports your local economy!
(image: National Geographic)