Biodiversity on the farm has taken a beating at the hands of modern, corporate agriculture. In the place of a deep roster of food plants and animals, the human race relies on a decimated few, which all too often totter along on chemical crutches.
Eight-six percent of apple varieties, over 6,000 in all, have become extinct since 1900. Ninety percent of chicken eggs in the United States are laid by the White Leghorn; 70 percent of our dairy herd is Holstein. Of all the varieties of potato once available, exactly four now make up 75 percent of the total crop, with the Russet Burbank—the McDonald’s french fry potato—dominant among these few.
We all need a broad range of nutrients for optimum health, and we
Need a wide variety of food to provide this.
It is not hard to see the potential for disaster in relying on so few, specific species for our food supply while wiping out the genetic base for resiliency in the face of trauma, disease, or climate change.
In his book Rain Forest in Your Kitchen, Martin Teitel not only tells of these and other disturbing facts about modern agriculture, but indicates a whole range of ways for the individual to do something about them. What he seeks is indicated by the book’s subtitle, “The Hidden Connection between Extinction and Your Supermarket.”
It is to the supermarket Teitel takes his reader for the effort to change.
Tieitel sees the ordinary supermarket as a giant voting booth. Here the consumer may follow the lead of the big corporations and buy standardized produce without concern for its high ecological cost. But Teitel shows how a few simple choices can send a loud, clear call to the retailers and producers that the current ways are neither acceptable not wanted.
Produce—fruits and vegetables—are Teitel’s number one weapon. This is because they are plant products that directly affect the genetic makeup and ecological viability of farming, and because supermarkets rely on them so heavily for profit. Between 21 and 27 percent of a typical supermarket’s slim profit margin comes from the produce section.
One of Teitel’s most helpful ideas is that we buy produce in season. This has a threefold benefit.
- Production of food crops in season is less expensive and does not export American food demands to other countries, where our buying power threatens the extinction of local crops.
- Peak-season produce tastes better, as a comparison between a fresh autumn apple and the watery produce of late winter will show.
- Finally, production in season permits the use of fewer chemicals, resulting in safer food.
It is better to turn your cart toward the frozen and canned-food sections of the supermarket in midwinter than to buy fresh produce flown in from other countries. Behind imported fresh produce lurks the potential for great damage to the planet’s genetic resources.