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  • ABOUT THE BOOK | Dan Saladino

    ABOUT THE BOOK A captivating and urgent exploration of some of the world's most endangered foods, Eating to Extinction is a thrilling journey through the history of humankind's relationship with food. It reveals a world at a crisis point, but it also gives reasons for hope. FIND THE BOOK SELECTED REVIEWS Read more "A genuine masterpiece and a call to arms. Everyone who loves food and cooking should read this" — Gill Meller "I love this book, not only is it a treasure trove of knowledge, stories and ideas, it's a call to us all to save foods, flavours and our diversity. It's important and timely. I wish the whole world could read it." — Raymond Blanc "For anyone interested in Darwin, world power, and life itself, read on." — Cerys Matthews "Dan Saladino writes about global food culture as urgently and compellingly as he broadcasts on The Food Programme. He makes a brilliant case that the diversity of our food culture is inextricably linked to the biodiversity of our environment, and therefore the future of our food IS the future of our planet." — Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall "A rallying cry to us all to protect the world's diversity before it's too late. But this is also a book filled with optimism; it captures the energy of a global movement of people dedicating their lives to saving the plants, the animals, the flavours and the food knowledge we must preserve." — Alice Waters "A real attention-grabber, an exceptionally wide-ranging, informative clarion call... As much an inspiring guide to the pioneering individuals, indigenous groups, scientists, and food producers who are championing the world's rich food heritage, as a warning about what threatens it." — Joanna Blythman, BBC Good Food Magazine "A fascinating journey across the fast disappearing diversity of our foods, which we ignore at our peril – a brilliant read." —Tim Spector "I've long admired Dan Saladino's journalism for its broad scope and passion. The same qualities animate his first book Eating to Extinction, an inspiring account of endangered foods and food cultures across the planet. Everyone who cares about what they eat will want to know its stories." —Harold McGee "How lucky we are that Dan Saladino has been able to tell these stories… This is the most important book about food that I have read for a long time… It is beautifully written and without hyperbole." —Stephen Harris "This is an enthralling tour of some of the world’s most endangered foods." —Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller, Editor’s Choice "This is a poignant and urgent read, it gets to the heart of storytelling because its threads the one thing that connects us all, our relationships to food. It is a timely reminder, too, that if we honour these connections we might have time to still save our rich heritage of diverse foods. Dip into this book immediately, just don't do it on an empty stomach." —Alys Fowler "Essential reading for those with a profound interest in the culture, history and anthropology of what, how and why we eat. It's completely absorbing, enlightening and a necessary addition to every bookshelf." —Richard Corrigan "Eating to Extinction is a celebration in the form of eclectic case studies . . . What Saladino finds in his adventures are people with soul-deep relationships to their food. This is not the decadence or the preciousness we might associate with a word like 'foodie,' but a form of reverence . . . Enchanting." —Molly Young, The New York Times "Eating to Extinction tells the stories of dozens of . . . endangered tastes and makes a reasoned case for saving them in which nostalgia and sentimentality play very little part . . . Saladino has an 18-year-old backpacker’s willingness to light out for remote destinations far from the usual food-writer feeding troughs . . . [A] deeply humanist book . . . Saladino’s eye for detail is photographic when he is describing places and things." —Pete Wells, The New York Times Book Review "[An] impressively researched book . . . Saladino brings his subjects to life, even breaking bread with them as he seeks out these rare and important foods. His evocative descriptions make a culinary case for preserving them." —Hannah Wallace, The Washington Post "Fascinating . . . A delightful exploration of traditional foods as well as a grim warning that we are farming on borrowed time." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) “This is a big book with a simple message: that we all need to pay more attention to what we are (and are no longer) eating. Behind everything we eat there are people, places, and stories. When we lose diversity in our food, we threaten also the culture and history of the land and the people who produce it. As the world becomes increasingly homogenous, preserving these things—keeping hold of diversity—matters. Dan Saladino manages to highlight the urgency of this matter while also inspiring us to believe that turning the tide is still possible.” —Yotam Ottolenghi "This inspiring and urgent book is one of the few food books that has ever given me goosebumps. Eating to Extinction is a love letter to the huge diversity of foods enjoyed by human beings. A story full of both loss and hope." —Bee Wilson, author of The Wall Street Journal's "Table Talk" column “Saladino delivers profound truths about our food system while taking the reader on a fabulous journey of taste, texture and provenance.” —Paul Greenberg, bestselling author of the James Beard award-winner Four Fish. "This is a work of staggering importance. If we relinquish control of the food supply to industrial technology, we lose not only our cultural heritage and good taste, but the ability to feed ourselves in a sustainable, local and meaningful way. Dan Saladino sounds a call to action, not a swan song of bygone foodways, and it should be required reading on the lists of everyone concerned about food." —Ken Albala, professor of history at the University of the Pacific "Eating to Extinction is an exhaustively researched and fascinating account of endangered food and drink. As a study of biodiversity and cultural creativity its message is alarming yet hopeful." —Paul Freedman, professor at Yale University and author of Ten Restaurants that Changed America "[An] excellent and valuable book." ―Colin Tudge, Literary Review "Packed with breathtaking facts... Saladino moves seamlessly from the the personal... Let's hope that Eating to Extinction can change the world." ―Antonia Windsor, Mail on Sunday "Eating to Extinction operates on a parallel time scales, as a polemic on the urgent need for action on agricultural diversity, and as a deeply researched, if accessible, history of food and drink production... Its satisfactions come from Saladino's ear for a human story and the breadth of the landscapes, and ecosystems, it covers... Saladino's study is immersive, evocative on a planetary scale, and appropriately so if we are to consider how best to protect the planet's resources." ― Niki Segnit, Times Literary Supplement "Packed full of knowledge about a host of ingredients that you probably didn't even know existed, Eating to Extinction captures the urgency (and cost) of heading towards a future that is less nutritionally diverse." ―Gege Li, New Scientist "Saladino offers many wonderful vignettes of indigenous food cultures." ―Economist Guild of Food Writers Winner: Food Book of the Year 2022 and First Book of the Year 2022 Corriere della Sera Cook Awards 2021 Winner: Food Book of the Year The New Yorker Featured in "Best Books of 2022" Bloomberg One of 52 'recommended new books of 2022' André Simon Memorial Fund Annual Food and Drink Book Award Winner: Special Commendation Award 2021 James Cropper Wainwright Prize Winner: Conservation Book of the Year 2022 The Times One of '18 Best Food Books 2021' Slow Food in the UK Dan Saladino: Person of the Year 2022 Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards 2021 Winner Stanford Food and Drink Travel Book of the Year Shortlisted The Observer One of '20 best food books of 2021' Wired magazine One of 12 'Best Books of 2022'

  • Dan Saladino, author of 'Eating to Extinction'

    We need to save the world’s most endangered foods. They represent history, identity, science, culture, creativity and craft. And our future. We all need to know these stories. Play Video Facebook Twitter Pinterest Tumblr Copy Link Link Copied Welcome to the website of Dan Saladino, journalist, writer and broadcaster. Here you will find articles and audio linked to his book Eating to Extinction, The World's Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them , as well as follow-ups to stories in the book and the latest research and ideas on food biodiversity and indigenous food systems. This is the personal website of Dan Saladino dedicated to Eating to Extinction . For BBC Radio 4's The Food Programme click here. LATEST NEWS Why we should all be eating more this January! Every time I’m invited to talk about Eating to Extinction at events, conferences and book festivals, the one question that always crops... Capturing the essence of a book Wild African honey, Andean tubers, Japanese salt-preserved fish and a unique Anatolian wheat are just four of the nearly forty stories of... How I discovered there was such a thing as an endangered food On my first day working on The Food Programme, back in 2007, Sheila Dillon asked me what my first edition was going to be about. Sicilian...

  • Food Diversity Day Resources | Dan Saladino

    FOOD DIVERSITY DAY: RESOURCES Food, biodiversity and endangered foods Slow Food’s Ark of Taste An online catalogue of the world’s most endangered foods, more than 5000 from 150 countries. Slow Food UK’s Ark of Taste Global Crop Diversity Trust An international organisation dedicated to conserving and making crop diversity available for use globally, forever and for the benefit of everyone. The Foods of England Project Using the British Library's collection, from cookbooks going back to the 1300s and from newspapers and other records, this project by Glyn Hughes brings together the original receipts (recipes) for over 3000 forgotten dishes. Food Museum Located in East Anglia, ‘Britain’s Breadbasket’, the museum’s mission is to connect people with where our food comes from and the impact of our choices: past, present and future Bread, Baking and the Diversity of Grains UK Grain Lab An annual meeting of farmers, millers, plant breeders, bakers, cooks, scientists and academics providing an opportunity to learn from each other and talk about the future of food. Real Bread Campaign An organisation finding and sharing ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. Britain and Ireland Community Grains Association Promoting locally based non-commodity grain cultivation and use to millers, bakers and consumers in our respective local areas and across Ireland and Britain. Washington State University Bread Lab Researchers working outside the commodity system on wheat and other grains to develop better tasting, healthier, affordable bread. The Last of Their Kind: Endangered British Cheeses and How to Save Them Specialist Cheesemakers Association An alliance of cheesemakers, retailers, wholesalers and others involved with artisan cheese, which was established to encourage excellence in cheesemaking. Patrick McGuigan One of the UK’s leading cheese writers and communicators, who has interviewed the world's best cheesemakers, affineurs and cheesemongers. Courtyard Dairy A cheese shop but also a great online resource for finding out more about cheese. British Cheese Awards Founded by Juliet Harbutt in 1994, the awards celebrate cheese makers from across the UK and Ireland. World Cheese Awards Bringing together cheesemakers, retailers, buyers and food commentators worldwide to judge over 4,000 cheeses from over 40 countries. Milk Trekker Cheesemaker Trevor Warmedahl documents global traditions of cheese, dairying, and pastoralism as he travels the world. Soil, Pasture & Animal breeds: Why Diversity Matters in Meat and Dairy Domestic Animal Diversity Information System Maintained and developed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, DAD-IS is a database of global livestock diversity. Rare Breeds Survival Trust An organisation established in 1974 to monitor, save and promote our UK native livestock breeds. UK Breeds at Risk The UK government’s record of the smallest and most fragile livestock populations. Pasture For Life Promoting produce raised exclusively on pasture, and making the case for the wider environmental and animal welfare benefits that pastured livestock systems represent. Livestock Conservancy Trust A non-profit organization working to protect more than 180 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction, including cattle, chickens, pigs and sheep. Since its inception in 1977, The Livestock Conservancy has not lost a breed on its Conservation Priority List to extinction. A Chef’s Guide to the Ark of Taste: Can Restaurants Save Endangered Foods? Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance A world-wide network of cooks from restaurants, bistros, canteens and street kitchens who support small producers and custodians of biodiversity, by using products from Presidia projects and the Ark of Taste, as well as local fruits, vegetables and cheeses, in their kitchens. Slow Food Cooks Alliance (UK) A network of chefs committed to cooking and promoting endangered foods from the Slow Food Ark of Taste and other communities of local producers. Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance (US) A network uniting cooks across the United States to support local producers, influence policy and awaken eaters to the rich food cultures and biodiversity of our planet. Relais & Chateaux Food for Change A collaboration between Relais & Châteaux and Slow Food which supports producers of endangered foods and regenerative farming with the aim of restoring ecosystems. Can Diversity Help Save the Oceans? Marine Stewardship Council An organisation working with fisheries, scientists and industry to make sure our oceans are fished sustainably and that it’s easy to find and buy certified sustainable seafood. The Sea Around Us A source of fisheries and fisheries-related data with ecological and policy relevance, including Exclusive Economic Zones, High Seas, or Large Marine Ecosystems. Blue Marine Foundation A charity dedicated to restoring the ocean to health by addressing overfishing, one of the world’s biggest environmental problems. The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture A biennial flagship report of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Division that analyses the status of global stocks as well as trends in fisheries and aquaculture at a global and regional level. The Lentil Underground: the Power of Pulses UN World Pulses Day An initiative to heighten public awareness of the nutritional, environmental and culinary benefits of eating pulses. Harvard School of Public Health A guide to various pulses and the latest science on their health benefits. BBC Food A guide to buying and cooking pulses Can Cities Save Food Diversity? World Farmers Market Coalition An organisation set up in 2022 to cultivate a world community of farmers markets and share best practices and innovation, defend endangered markets and promote food diversity. Sustain An alliance of organisations and communities working together for a better system of food, farming and fishing, and cultivating the movement for change. Milan Urban Food Policy Pact An international protocol aimed at tackling food-related issues at the urban level, to be adopted by as many world cities as possible. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen? Insights from five case studies. Seeds: A Guide to Creating Diversity Gaia Foundation An international foundation dedicated to reviving and protecting cultural and biological diversity in order to restore resilience for ecosystems and local communities. The Heritage Seed Library A charity which maintains the national collection of heritage vegetables for the UK, conserving vegetable varieties not widely available and sharing those seeds for members to grow and enjoy. Svalbard Global Seed Vault A vault constructed deep under the Arctic Circle safeguarding duplicates of 1.2 million seed samples from almost every country in the world. In backing up gene bank collections it is securing the foundations of our future food supply. National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation (United States) The home of one of the world’s largest plant and animal gene banks, helping to shape the future of agriculture in the United States. The plant division alone contains more than 10,000 plant species. ​ Irish Seed Savers This organisation, founded in 1991, raises public awareness about the fragility of Irish agricultural biodiversity and maintains a public seed bank with over 600 non-commercially available varieties of heirloom and heritage seeds, including rare vegetables, fruit, grains and potatoes. Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst A globally important collection of wild plant species sourced by a seed conversation network covering over 80 countries. Seedbank (Australia) A seed collection of thousands of plant species found in Australia including many which are rare and threatened in the wild. Navdanya (India) A network of seed savers and community seed banks, founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva, which is working across more than 20 states. It contains under-used crops such as millets, pulses, and pseudo-cereals and over 4,000 rice varieties. Bottling Biodiversity CAMRA Founded by four real ale enthusiasts back in 1971, the Campaign for Real Ale represents beer drinkers and pub-goers across the UK Welsh Perry & Cider Society (WPCS) A not-for-profit organisation that has cultivated an ever-growing crop of traditional cider and perry producers Old Vines Conference Galvanising a global movement to nurture and value great old vines, and their wines. SACRED A not-for-profit corporation helping improve lives in the rural Mexican communities where heritage agave spirits are made BACK TO EVENT SCHEDULE

  • FOOD DIVERSITY DAY | Dan Saladino

    FOOD DIVERSITY DAY Help celebrate and save food diversity. Watch the short film to find out why it matters. Play Video Facebook Twitter Pinterest Tumblr Copy Link Link Copied Inspired by Eating to Extinction , on January 13th 2023 Dan Saladino was joined by seed expert Alys Fowler, Professor Tim Spector, chefs Thomasina Miers, Mitch Tonks and Michael Caines, baker Wing Mong Cheung and many others for a series of live and online events to celebrate Britain's rare and endangered foods and start work on a food diversity manifesto. Find out what happened and catch up on the sessions below. ​ You can also explore further resources for each of the sessions here . SCHEDULE OF TALKS, PRESENTATIONS AND DISCUSSIONS Welcome to Food Diversity Day! In this opening session , we heard about the big ideas behind Food Diversity Day, and learned more about the stories and themes to be explored across the ten different sessions. We also heard the latest thinking on why food diversity matters for our own health as well as that of the planet, and the value of food for community and identity. Polly Russell (food historian) talked to Dan Saladino (Eating to Extinction) , Tim Benton (Chatham House), Tim Spector (Food For Life) and Melissa Thompson (Motherland: A Jamaican Cookbook) to answer the question, “Why does food diversity matter?” WATCH NOW Bread, Baking and the Diversity of Grains Wheat is the globe’s third largest commodity. Almost all the varieties being grown today are dependent on pesticides and artificial fertilisers and bred for yield and ease of harvesting, milling and high-speed baking in vast integrated systems. Nutritional value, taste, baking quality, soil health and CO2 emissions are not usually part of the equation. Can a new understanding of grain diversity change all that? There’s growing evidence that it can. Three people in the wheat and bread business cast light on a changing wheat world. Sheila Dillon with Kim Bell (UK Grain Lab), Wing Mon Cheung (Cereal Bakery), Fintan Keenan (Quartz Mølle, Denmark). WATCH NOW Seeds: A Guide to Creating Diversity Protecting food diversity isn’t just about preserving what was important in the past, it’s also about ensuring new diversity is being created in our future crops, vegetables and fruits. We need to make sure varieties are being developed and planted so they can evolve and adapt to future needs. The good news is this is a mission we can all participate in. In this session, Alys Fowler and guests explained how more of us can exchange, save and plant seeds, and create the diversity of the future. Alys Fowler (horticulturalist), Sinead Fortune (Gaia Foundation), Madeline McKeever (Brown Envelope Seeds) and Guy Watson (Riverford). WATCH NOW Soil, Pasture & Animal breeds: Why Diversity Matters in Meat and Dairy As Dan Saladino describes in Eating to Extinction , global meat and dairy production is based on a small gene pool of highly productive animal breeds. But around the world models exist in which diversity is still at the heart of the farming system. In this session we heard how diverse breeds raised on diverse pastures can produce food with benefits to soil, biodiversity and nutrition. Jimmy Woodrow (Pasture For Life), Frederik Leroy (Vrije University, Brussels), Elizabeth Cooke (PlantLife), Sam Beaumont (Gowbarrow Hall Farm, Cumbria), and Leila Simon (Tamarisk Farm, Dorset). WATCH NOW A Chef’s Guide to the Ark of Taste: Can Restaurants Save Endangered Foods? Chefs are very influential tellers of food stories. Through their restaurants and cookbooks, and on television and radio they are able to shape tastes, set trends and raise our awareness on a whole host of issues. But can this influence be used to promote greater food and farming diversity? Watch a conversation between six leading chefs who are using their menus to save endangered foods. Shane Holland (Slow Food UK), with chefs Michael Caines (Lympstone Manor, Devon), Akwasi Mensa (Tatale, London), Luke Holder (Lime Wood, Hampshire) and Neil Forbes (Café St Honore, Edinburgh). WATCH NOW Can Diversity Help Save the Oceans? Our relationship with fish and seafood is problematic. The so-called ‘big five’ species, salmon, tuna, cod, haddock and prawns, make up 80 per cent of what we eat from the ocean. But why is this the case and what are the consequences for the marine environment? If it’s possible to add more fish diversity to our diets, which species should we focus on? Watch a marine ecologist, fisherman, retailer and chef in conversation on these important topics (because of technical issues some panel members joined this towards the end). Bryce Stewart (York University), Mitch Tonks (Brixham), Sanjay Kumar (chef), Caroline Bennett (Sole of Discretion), and Chris Bean (fisherman). WATCH NOW The Lentil Underground: the Power of Pulses For more than 10,000 years pulses (beans, lentils, and peas) have been among the world’s most important foods. However, in the last century, in many food cultures, they fell into decline as farming animals and meat eating became more widespread. On a planet with a growing population, a dependence on fossil fuels and depleted soils, pulses are increasingly being seen as foods that can help us meet future challenges. They’re also delicious. In this session you can find out how people in different parts of the world are reviving lost legumes and returning a diversity of pulses back to our plates. Josiah Meldrum and Nick Saltmarsh (Hodmedods) with pulse revivalists from Sweden, Germany and Doc Bill Thomas from Sapelo Island, USA on the story of the Geechee Red pea. WATCH NOW Can Cities Save Food Diversity? Today, 56% of the world’s population – that’s 4.4 billion inhabitants – live in cities. This trend towards urban living is expected to continue, with the population of cities more than doubling its current size by 2050, at which point nearly 7 of 10 people will live in a city. Does this necessarily mean a further decline of diversity in the way we farm and produce food? In this session, you'll hear stories from around the world in which cities are driving the transition towards greater food diversity, from an international network of farmers markets to innovations in the public procurement of food for schools and hospitals. Richard McCarthy (World Farmers Markets Coalition), Thomasina Miers (chef and writer), Carolyn Steel (author Hungry City & Sitopia ), Dora Taylor (Farmerama) and Jannie Vestergaard (Copenhagen). WATCH NOW The Last of Their Kind: Endangered British Cheeses and How to Save Them There are just a handful of farms left in the UK making traditional regional cheeses, such as Red Leicester, Lancashire and Wensleydale. in this session cheesemonger Andy Swinscoe from the Courtyard Dairy and cheese writer Patrick McGugian are joined by the cheesemakers themselves, to explore why territorial cheeses matter, the differences between farm and factory cheeses, and the importance of traditional cheesemaking. The cheesemakers on this panel, plus their cheeses, are: Graham Kirkham: Kirkham’s Lancashire Jo Clarke: Sparkenhoe, Red Leicester Sally Hattan: Stonebeck, Wensleydale. A Food Diversity Day Cheese Selection box is available to go along with the talk. Purchase via Courtyard Dairy . WATCH NOW Bottling Biodiversity For millennia, drinks have reflected a sense of place: the grape varieties used by winemakers, the types of barley and hops brewed to make beer and the plants and grains used for distillation and making spirits. Hear from some of the leading experts in wine, beer, cider and mescal on saving traditions, flavours and precious ingredients. ​ Pete Brown (Miracle Brew), with Marc Millon (wine writer), Sarah Abbott (Old Vine Conference), Chava Peribán (Agave Road Trip), Gabe Cook (cider and perry expert), John Letts (grower of grains). WATCH NOW Closing session: A Food Diversity Manifesto What have we learnt from Food Diversity Day and what can we all do to make a difference? Polly, Dan, Tim Benton and Tim Spector regrouped to discuss the potential for a food diversity manifesto. Polly Russell, Dan Saladino, Tim Benton and Tim Spector. WATCH NOW TASTE & DISCOVER FOOD DIVERSITY The Ark of Taste is an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods maintained by the global Slow Food movement. Use their free search tool to learn about rare foods local to you and see if you can find them. These restaurants and iconic public spaces are putting on special food diversity menus: British Library (London) from 9 January The Magazine at the Serpentine (London) 13 – 31 January BFI Riverfront (Waterloo) 13 – 27 January Benugo Barbican (London) 13 – 27 January Ashmolean Rooftop Restaurant (Oxford) 13 – 15 January Savill Garden Kitchen (Windsor Great Park) 13 – 15 January Wakehurst - Kew Gardens (Sussex) from 9 January More ways to taste and discover food diversity will be added soon. PRESS CONTACT Please contact for any media related enquiries. FOUNDING PARTNERS ​ With special thanks to our founding partners: Hodmedods, The Gaia Foundation, Luke Holder of HH&Co at Lime Wood, Benugo, Graysons Restaurants and Pasture for Life.

  • AUDIO | Dan Saladino

    AUDIO Listen to exclusive audio tracks: interviews with some of the experts and food heroes Dan met while researching Eating to Extinction , and eight surprising food facts! INTERVIEWS AND STORIES James Woodburn, photo by Alan Macfarlane Why do Hadza hunter-gatherers live in an egalitarian society? Dan talks to the anthropologist James Woodburn who first encountered the Hadza in 1957. 00:00 / 06:54 Hadza hunter and meat Bruce Pascoe, photo by Lyn Harwood The life-giving delicious daisy close to the brink of extinction Chef Ben Shewry and the aboriginal writer Bruce Pascoe tell Dan the story of the murnong. 00:00 / 16:42 Illustration of murnong by Becky Ripley 8 SURPRISING FOOD FACTS Introduction: diversity 00:00 / 01:22 Seeds 00:00 / 02:07 Coffee 00:00 / 01:33 Chocolate 00:00 / 01:24 Apple 00:00 / 01:18 Potato 00:00 / 01:19 Strange maize 00:00 / 01:33 Cheese 00:00 / 01:02

  • EXPLORE THE BOOK | Dan Saladino

    EXPLORE THE BOOK Click on a location to find short extracts from the book and photographs Dan took on his research travels. ​ Then scroll down to find 15 amazing facts he discovered on his journey! 1 2 3 6 4 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 15 16 13 1 Lake Eyasi, Tanzania 3 Colorado, USA 5 Büyük Çatma, Anatolia 7 Andes, Bolivia 9 Great Plains, USA 11 Tian Shan, Kazakhstan 13 Accursed Mountains, Albania 15 Harenna, Ethiopia 2 Southern Australia 4 Garo Hills, India 6 Oaxaca, Mexico 8 Faroe Islands 10 Nishiizu, Southern Japan 12 Nottinghamshire, England 14 Three Counties, England 16 Cumanacoa, Venezuela 15 AMAZING FACTS For most of human history, our food was extraordinarily diverse Read more The world’s largest seed vault is on the Arctic island of Svalbard, deemed to be the most secure place on the planet for storing more than one million seeds, varieties of more than 1,000 different crops. The collection is a living record of thousands of years of farming history and the diversity we have lost and are losing from our fields and our diets. It includes 170,000 individual samples of rice, 39,000 samples of maize, 21,000 samples of potato and 35,000 samples of millet – each potentially with unique flavours and other valuable properties, including disease or drought resistance, we can’t afford to lose. The food skills that make us human are being lost Read more The Hadza have lived in the Great Rift Valley, East Africa for at least 40,000 years. Fewer than 300 still live as hunter-gatherers, providing the closest living link we have to the diets of our ancestors. Their favourite food is honey and to find it they communicate with a bird, the honeyguide. The birds recognise the sounds of the Hadza’s whistles and lead the humans to trees containing bees’ nests. The Hadza smoke the bees out and take the honey and in return, the birds get to eat the wax without being stung to death. It’s the most complex and productive partnership between two different species and is thought to reach back a million years or more to our ancestors’ first use of fire. Wild honey is one of the foods that fuelled human evolution. It’s no coincidence the human-bird partnership is being lost as sugar and sweet fizzy drinks arrive in Hadzaland. Plants once dismissed as weeds are now understood to be a precious food resource Read more In the south of England, near Gatwick Airport, is another seed vault, housed underground inside a building so secure it’s been made to withstand explosions, radiation and flooding. This is home to seeds of the wild relatives of the foods we eat. Explorers from more than a hundred countries are busy searching in jungles, across savannah and within forests for endangered ‘crop wild relatives’, sending seed samples to be stored at the Millennium Seed Bank. Until recently, these wild plants were regarded mostly as weeds; now we realise we need them to breed the crops of the future as they could contain the genetic tool-kits required to protect against disease and climate change. A sign outside the vault, which contains 2.4 million seeds, says, ‘You are standing in the most biodiverse place on the planet’. Cheese is the ultimate expression of place Read more Humans have been making cheese for at least 7,000 years and once there were as many different cheeses as there were places. Cheese, in whatever form it has taken, has traditionally captured the essence of an environment: the grass, the microbes (bacteria and fungi), the local breeds of animal and their milk. But cheese is becoming more and more uniform and its ancient link with the land is being broken. Much of the cheese we eat today, wherever we are in the world, is made from milk processed by a small number of companies, sourced from the same breed of cattle, using bacteria and enzymes created in a handful of labs. We are at risk of losing the diversity created by thousands of years of cheese-making. In a place of conflict and turmoil chocolate provides a source of hope Read more In my search for endangered foods around the world, I travelled to Venezuela, a country that was in crisis; the economy had collapsed, a crime-wave was underway, and people were going hungry. In the capital Caracas I met former chef Maria Fernanda di Giacobbe who was teaching people to survive difficult times by making chocolate. Her idea was to restore Venezuela’s rare and prized cacao, criollo, once used to make the most revered chocolate in the world, drunk by Aztecs in Mexico and later by Europeans (including Pepys in 17th century London). Criollo farming fell into decline when Venezuela’s rush for oil took off and the prestigious seeds became endangered. Now di Giacobbe is helping farmers grow criollo and teaching Venezuelans how to turn criollo beans into chocolate, so creating jobs, hope for the future and some of the best bars of chocolate in the world. Increasingly, we're all eating exactly the same foods Read more Of the 6,000 plant species humans have eaten over time, the world now mostly grows and consumes just nine, of which just three – rice, wheat and maize – provide 50 per cent of all calories. Add potato, barley, palm oil, soy and sugar (beet and cane) and you have 75 per cent of all the calories that fuel our species. The diversity within these crops is also disappearing as we rely on a smaller and smaller number of high yielding varieties. Our survival depends on knowing where our food comes from Read more Knowing where a food plant originated can lead us to where the greatest genetic diversity of that crop exists. Genetic diversity, we’re realising, is the secret to future food security and resilience, and preserving it is important for our survival. At the International Potato Center in Lima, for instance, 4,600 different Andean tubers are being safeguarded. This rich diversity in the potato’s ‘centre of origin’ is where we have the greatest chance of finding the genetic traits needed in future to protect against climate change and disease (such as the blight that caused the Irish potato famine). Even more potato diversity exists in the thousands of remote communities across the Andes in Peru and Bolivia where landrace (locally adapted) varieties are still being grown and are continuing to adapt. We are at risk of losing foods before we understand how important they are Read more In Oaxaca, southern Mexico, growing in a high-altitude village called Totontepec, is one of the world’s strangest and most mysterious food crops. This rare type of maize, called Oloton, has roots above ground as well as below and oozes a gooey microbial mucus. Few other crops grow in the mountainous village and the Mixe people who tend them have no access to fertiliser, but this corn seems to flourish. In 2018, scientists discovered that the mysterious mucus is the plant’s way of feeding itself – it contains microbes that pull nitrogen directly from the surrounding air. In short, it’s a self-feeding plant. In a world awash with artificial fertilisers (which emit greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change), this crop, nurtured by indigenous people over thousands of years, could be an important part of all of our food futures. It is possible to drink diversity... but it's getting harder and harder to do Read more More than 1,500 grape varieties have been recorded, many of which are indigenous, ancient and highly adapted to their local environments. But it’s estimated that about 80 per cent of all vineyards now grow just ten or so ‘international’ varieties – the likes of Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah, which started to dominate winemaking in the 1960s. In Georgia, in the Caucuses, thought to be the birthplace of wine, farmers are working to restore the 500 indigenous grape varieties that were almost lost during the Soviet era when the regime dictated only five grape varieties could be grown. There, the qvervi, a large clay vessel which is buried underground (the predecessor of the barrel) is still used to ferment grapes and make wine the original way. We can save the diversity disappearing from our oceans Read more Sailors used to provide tales of seas so full of fish it was hard to navigate boats through the shoals. In the last century, we’ve emptied the oceans of such abundance. But we now have the know-how to help replenish the seas – by creating Marine Protection Areas. The success of these ocean sanctuaries has been repeated again and again across the globe, including in Cabo Pulmo on the west coast of Mexico, which had been all but emptied of fish during the 1980s and was revived after local fishing communities decided to stop fishing and create a protected zone. Within a decade, the biomass of fish increased by nearly 500 per cent, close to what it would have been like if it had never been fished in the first place. Food power is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands Read more The source of much of the world’s food – seeds – is mostly in the control of just four corporations; half of all the world’s cheeses are produced with bacteria or enzymes manufactured by a single company; one in four beers drunk around the world is the product of one brewer; most global pork production is based around the genetics of a single breed of pig; and just two companies control the genetics of most of the world’s commercial chickens. The 'centres of origin' of our food are at risk - and that matters to us all Read more Eat an apple and wherever you are in the world, whatever its shape, size, colour or taste, its origin can be traced back to the Tian Shan, the snow-tipped ‘heavenly mountains’ that separate China and Central Asia. The wild trees that cover its slopes here are a living gene bank. As the birthplace of the apple, the biodiverse Tian Shan holds the past, present and future of one of our most popular fruits. But vast sections of the wild forest have disappeared (cleared for industry, housing and agriculture). With the loss of each wild apple tree, the fruit’s living gene bank is being depleted. Losing diversity risks unleashing more zoonotic diseases Read more We’re not just relying on a few varieties of a small number of plants for our food, we’re also banking on just a few breeds for most of our meat. The 80 billion animals slaughtered each year are increasingly from a small selection of genetically uniform, faster growing and bigger animals; just three breeding lines dominate global poultry production; and most pork is based around the genetics of a single pig, the Large White. In dairy, more than 95 per cent of America’s dairy herd is based around one breed of ‘super cow’, the Holstein (and most of these animals can be linked back to a handful of males). Creating larger and larger industrial units filled with thousands of genetically identical animals is a perfect environment for zoonotic diseases to evolve and spread. The future of coffee depends on exploring diversity Read more Most of the coffee we drink today comes from a handful of plants shipped out of Yemen in the 17th century. Coffea arabica (which grew and still grows wild in Ethiopia) was the first coffee to be cultivated and is now the most widely grown and consumed. But we’re at risk of losing it. Because of its history and narrow genetic base, a cultivated Arabica plant today has a fraction of the gene variation of one found in the wild. In the face of climate change, water shortages and a disease that’s wiping out coffee crops across the world, Arabica might not have a big enough toolkit to adapt fast enough, or even at all. Luckily, other species of coffee do exist (so far, 120 have been discovered and named), but we are in a race against time to find them before they go extinct. One is stenophylla, an endangered coffee which used to grow widely in Sierra Leone, with a flavour said to be as good if not better than Arabica. Change must happen... and it can happen Read more Every minute of every day, a million dollars is spent on agricultural subsidies around the world, whether that’s for planting more soy in the Cerrado, more monocultures of maize in North America, fields of homogeneous wheat in Europe, or sending out more boats to already overfished waters. This is public money, our money, and it is supporting a system that isn’t resilient, healthy or sustainable. The world’s current food system is contributing to climate change, deforestation and waste. A more diverse food system could help solve many of the problems we face. There are inspirational people around the world (farmers, chefs, cheese- and wine-makers, seed savers) already fighting for change, preserving their foods, their cooking cultures and protecting diversity for us all. If we all start to learn about the foods being lost and add greater diversity to our food choices we too can start to make changes to the food system. It’s not about recapturing the past but about shaping a better future.

  • ABOUT | Dan Saladino

    ABOUT Although I was born in Britain, my earliest and most profound food memories all come from Sicily where I spent all my childhood summers with my Sicilian nonna, aunts and cousins. It was here that I discovered how food always comes with a story and how it connects people, not just to each other but to a place. Perhaps it was no surprise then, that when I first started working on BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme in 2007 and was asked to make my first programme, my mind went immediately to Sicily, where I knew the orange harvest was beginning. It was also here in Sicily that I first discovered, at a meal to celebrate some of Sicily’s rare orange varieties, that there were such things as endangered foods. The Slow Food man sitting next to me told me that the various oranges used to create the meal were on the Ark of Taste, an online sort of Noah’s ark for food. Set up by Slow Food in Italy, the Ark was steadily filling up with foods from across the globe and the stories I found on it – about unique foods, the cultures which created them and the people trying to save them – were spell-binding to me. ​ Ever since, I have sought out stories of endangered foods and when it was suggested to me that I should write a book, it’s these stories that I wanted to tell. Each story stood alone as telling its own tale about the part of the world it came from – it spoke of history, politics, culture, community and flavour. But as I started to write, something started to become clear to me: the diverse foods I was writing about, whether an Albanian mountain cheese, a Georgian qvevri wine, an Orkney variety of barley or a piece of fermented Faorese sheep, were all at risk because of one thing. The homogenisation of food taking place across the world was edging foods that had been created over thousands of years – foods which contained important genetics, disease-resistance, nutrition and flavour – towards extinction. ​ In my book Eating to Extinction, I argue that we need these endangered foods – for our future food security, the good of the planet and the good of our own health. These are precious resources that were a long time in the making. We can’t afford to lose them. GET IN TOUCH My father, Liborio ‘Bobo’ Saladino, was born in south-western Sicily in a small town called Ribera. This is where I spent the summers of my childhood. Ribera was my introduction to farming, to crops and to harvests, and it shaped my thinking about food. On the outskirts of the town, a towering, brightly painted sign proclaims: Ribera: Città delle arance – ‘city of oranges’. For me, arriving in Ribera as a child was like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy first realises she’s not in Kansas any more. Coming from the black-and-white food world of 1970s Britain I was dazzled by the MGM Technicolor of Sicilian food. It’s no surprise then that I found the kernel of the idea that eventually became Eating to Extinction in Sicily.

  • Murnong

    MURNONG Extract from Part One: Wild Murnong - Southern Australia Before European invaders arrived in the eighteenth century, Victoria in Southern Australia was covered in plants of murnong, a crop that grew so thick that from a distance it seemed to form a blanket of yellow. For the indigenous people who lived here over tens of thousands of years, including the Wurundjeri, the Wathaurong, Gunditjmara and Jaara, the importance of this root is hard to overstate. Without murnong as vital sustenance, life here would have been precarious if not impossible. But by the 1860s the food was as good as extinct. From the arrival of the first colonists in 1788, when livestock was offloaded from ships, sheep began eating their way through the landscape. Before the gold rush of the 1850s, a ‘grass rush’ had taken hold across southern Australia. The region had some of the greatest expanses of grasslands in the world but, unlike the Serengeti and the American Plains, there were no migrating animals roaming free and no wildlife to plunder the murnong fields. In the first decades of European settlement, farmers introduced millions of sheep, their numbers doubling every two or three years. Awaiting the sheep were thousands of square miles of pristine grass and vegetation, and the animals loved murnong. The soil was also light and soft, so they could nose their way right through to the roots. They cropped the plants with their teeth and, along with cattle, their hard hooves compacted the soil. In 1839, just five years after the founding of Melbourne, James Dredge, a Methodist preacher who had spent a year with the Tonge-worong people living in a bark hut, recorded in his diary a conversation with an Aboriginal man named Moonin. ‘Too many jumbuck [sheep] and bulgana [cattle],’ Moonin said, ‘plenty eat it myrnyong, all gone the murnong.’ A year later, Edward Curr added in his journal that ‘several thousand sheep not only learnt to root up these vegetables with their noses, but they for the most part lived on them for the first year’, after which murnong became scarce. The state-appointed ‘Chief Protectors of the Aborigines’, the colonists on the ground and in a position to see how quickly things were changing in the Aboriginal territories, were aware of what was happening to murnong. One alerted his superiors to scenes of starvation. In the eyes of most of the Europeans, however, murnong was little more than a weed, and so the indigenous people were left looking on as more livestock arrived and swept through the landscape, eating up their supplies of food. A missionary, Francis Tuckfield, wrote that ‘the Aborigines’ ... murnong and other valuable roots are eaten by the white man’s sheep, and their deprivations, abuses and miseries are daily increasing’. The colonists introduced other invasive species which made the situation worse, including grasses that outcompeted murnong and encouraged yet more grazing and trampling by sheep and cattle. Then, in 1859, rabbits were brought to Australia. If there had been any wild murnong left, the herbivores finished it off. Illustration of murnong by Becky Ripley BACK TO ALL

  • Stichelton

    STICHELTON Extract from Part Seven: Cheese Stichelton – Nottinghamshire, England At six o’clock one morning, I stepped into a warm, white-walled dairy on the edge of Sherwood Forest to watch England’s ‘King of Cheeses’ being made, a Stilton in all but name. Joe Schneider works to an old recipe for the blue-veined cheese, but because he uses unpasteurised milk, he’s not allowed to call it Stilton. Rules passed in the 1990s mean the famous cheese can now only be made with pasteurised milk. To avoid prosecution, Schneider called his cheese Stichelton, Old English for the town that gave Stilton its name. From the large windows of the Stichelton dairy, I could see the cows returning to their field. A layer of yellow cream glinted across the surface of the morning’s milk as it settled in a long, rectangular stainless steel vat. This was the first step in the twenty-four-hour ‘make’ (farmhouse Cheddar can take as little as six hours). People have tried to speed up Stilton recipes, but it can’t be done; making Stichelton is a long and physical process. Just a minuscule (Schneider says ‘homeopathic’) amount of starter culture is added, to encourage the acidity to develop gradually, ensuring each step of the make (something of a slow-motion high-wire act) can be taken ever so gently. This is not a consistent cheese. Most often it is outstanding, but sometimes Schneider will make a Stichelton which is incomparable, up there among the world’s best. To create the blue veins that run through the cheese, Schneider adds spores of the fungus Penicillium roqueforti at the start of the make. Later, when the cheeses are maturing, holes are pierced into the centre, letting air in and activating the mould. This causes further breakdown of fats and proteins, adding sharper, more piquant flavours, making the texture softer and creamier and giving parts of the ivory coloured cheese its distinctive indigo blue veins. Before it became possible to manufacture Penicillium roqueforti, Stilton makers were said to have used old pieces of leather which they left hanging outside their dairies until they became coated in a delicate layer of mould. They then draped these through the vats to inoculate their milk. Five hours into that day’s make, the milk had coagulated, and the whey drained away. Schneider now had to move the warm curds from the vat and onto a long cooling table. Most Stilton makers now do this mechanically, but Schneider insists that it has to be done by hand, one ladle at a time. In a single motion he took a scoop from the vat on his right and swung it across to the cooling table on his left. For an hour, I watched him bend, turn and twist, heaving the curds from one side to the other. The room was silent except for the trance-like slip-slapping sound of moist curds falling onto the table. ‘Do it any other way and you’ll damage the curds and change the texture of the cheese,’ he said. I felt I was witnessing the last fragile link in a chain that had been forged centuries before, one that connected humans, animals, pasture and microbes; a beautiful and natural synchronicity. Science had changed that, casting nature as the enemy and giving the laboratory the status of saviour. In this dairy, I could still feel the sense of wonder for that other lost world. ‘To think,’ I said, as I watched the firm curds pile up, ‘a few hours ago it was milk.’ ‘And just two days ago,’ Schneider said, ‘it was grass'. Joe Schneider at work making Stichelton Stichelton cheese BACK TO ALL

  • Kavilca Wheat

    KAVILCA WHEAT Extract from Part Two: Cereal Kavılca Wheat - Büyük Çatma, Anatolia Over thousands of years, various cultures and empires have claimed the soil of Büyük Çatma, on Turkey’s eastern border. But while different people came and went, a rare source of continuity has been a particular type of grain, Kavilca, an emmer wheat, one of the first plants domesticated by Neolithic farmers, which still grows in the fields around the village. Kavilca is now endangered, but it has been grown over centuries for good reason – it has qualities we can’t afford to lose. It was harvest time, and the last uncut field of golden-yellow Kavilca formed an oasis against the backdrop of the grey-green mountains. The mature ears of wheat were now so heavy they bowed down, their long, protective bristles waving in the wind. Dasdemir walked among the chest-high stalks, picked off an ear and broke it apart. The grains were encased in a tight-fitting, protective shell, a glume. He rubbed it between his fingers. ‘Most wheat gives up its grains easily,’ he said. ‘Kavilca is stubborn.’ Kavilca also produces lower yields than modern varieties. I was starting to wonder why it hadn’t gone extinct long ago. Resilience is part of the answer. The land around Büyük Çatma is high and harsh, a tough place to live, for people and plants. At an altitude of 1,500 metres, temperatures drop to below –30°C in the winter, and heavy snow can close the village off for weeks. During the spring it rains and the air is damp, an invitation for all kinds of diseases to attack crops. Few crops do well here. Kavilca is an exception; it evolved in this environment over thousands of years, adapted, survived and thrived. Dasdemir and the other farmers viewed Kavilca as an inheritance, handed down by their ancestors. ‘We have an emotional connection with this food,’ he said. ‘We love the way the wheat looks in our fields, and the smell and taste of the grain when it’s cooked.’ From the field, we went in search of the only local miller stubborn enough to still work with the stubborn wheat. Erdem Kaya looked tired when we arrived at his mill on the outskirts of the village. During harvest time, he finishes work at one o’clock in the morning and starts again at six. A beanpole of a man, dressed in a green overall, unshaven and melancholy-looking, he lives and works alone. His father had been a miller, he had been born in the mill and it was all he had ever known. The grey-stone mill stands beside the Kars Çayi River, the source of the power for the two large circular grinding stones inside. A sweet smell hung in the air like freshly baked cake. Kaya disappeared up a ladder and pulled a long wooden lever to start the flow of water. The whole room seemed to creak and then sigh as machinery juddered into life, a series of belts slapped into action and the giant stones began to turn. Modern bread wheat is free-threshing which means its naked grains easily come loose from their ears, ready to be milled into flour. Because of their tough hulls, Kavilca grains have to be milled twice. The first step removes the husks. After these outer shells have been separated (winnowed away), a second round of grinding breaks the grains into tiny pieces, leaving it looking like fine shingle on a beach. It is the most difficult wheat Kaya works with, but also the most satisfying. ‘When they cook with it in the village, I can smell it from the mill,’ he said. ‘That’s not true with the other grains.’ He handed us a sack of Kavilca and we left him to his work. The aroma Kaya described wafts from a variety of traditional Anatolian dishes that feature Kavilca, one of which was cooked with the grains we had collected from the mill. Back in the village Erdal Göksu and his wife Filiz, also farmers, roasted a goose on top of the cracked wheat so that its fat dripped down and cooked the grains. Filiz moved around the kitchen, a white, embroidered scarf covering her head, and added bowl after bowl to the table: cream and soft cheeses, pickled cabbage, peppers stuffed with spiced lamb and, at the centre of it all, a large dish piled with Kavilca shaped into a ring, its brown grains glistening with the fat and juices from the goose, with flakes of tender, buttery meat in the centre. The grains tasted rich, nutty and satisfying. ‘This is a taste we recognise deep within us,’ Filiz said, ‘we feel it in our bodies.’ Standing in a field of Kavilca in Eastern Anatolia Kavilca wheat Erdem Kaya, the miller Erdem's mill BACK TO ALL

  • Hadza Honey

    HADZA HONEY Extract from Part One: Wild Hadza Honey - Lake Eyasi, Tanzania In northern Tanzania, on the green and brown savannah near the shore of Lake Eyasi, I watched an incredible collaboration between human and bird, Sigwazi, a Hadza, and a honeyguide. Honeyguide birds respond to the twists and twirls of the Hadza’s whistles, special calls that are passed down from one generation of hunter to another as a way of summoning a helper in their hunt for honey, Hadza’s favourite food. As Sigwazi walked, he whistled… This wasn’t a melodious tune, more a series of angular ups and downs on a musical scale, each passage finished with a high-pitched twirl. To my ears there was no obvious musical pattern to follow but something in the bush was paying close attention to this whistle. Noticing movement above the trees, Sigwazi broke into a sprint, weaving through the scrub and around baobab trees as he continued the whistle. A wordless conversation was under way, an exchange between a human and a bird. Sigwazi looked towards the flutter of activity in the canopy, and there perched on a branch was an olive-grey bird the size of a starling. Barring a few flashes of white on its tail, the bird looked plain and unassuming, but after a few more whistles from the hunter, it revealed itself to be exceptional. ‘Ach-ech-ech-ech’ came its reply to Sigwazi’s whistle, signalling that a deal was on. The bird had agreed to lead the hunter to honey hidden among the branches of the giant baobabs. These trees are as wide as they are tall, living for up to a thousand years, fed by a root system so deep that they can access water in periods of extreme drought. Finding a bees’ nest concealed among the baobab’s tall branches can take a hunter-gatherer several hours as they need to inspect tree after tree; with the assistance of a honeyguide, it takes a fraction of that time. The bird’s scientific name captures its talent perfectly: Indicator indicator . Somehow, over hundreds of thousands of years, the two species, humans and honeyguides, found a way of sharing their different skills. The bird can find the bees’ nests but can’t get to the wax it wants to eat without being stung to death. Humans, meanwhile, struggle to find the nests, but armed with smoke can pacify the bees. Theirs is the most complex and productive of any partnership between humans and wild animals. Sigwazi watched as the bird he had attracted with his whistle hovered above one of the baobabs. This signalled there was honey; now it was time for Sigwazi to start climbing. He was short (five feet tall at most), wiry and slim. I figured his physique was the reason he was the member of the group chosen to climb the tree, but I came to realise it was more a question of bravery. Sigwazi was the one least concerned about disturbing a bees’ nest, being stung or, worse still, falling thirty feet to the ground. He handed his bow and arrow to a fellow hunter, stripped off his ripped T-shirt and frayed shorts and removed the string of red and yellow beads from around his neck. By now almost naked, he started to chop up fallen branches with an axe and sharpen them into thin sticks. Baobabs are so soft and sponge-like that hunters can drive these pegs into their trunks with ease to create a makeshift ladder up towards the canopy. Swinging back and forth, Sigwazi made his way up the baobab, forcing a new peg in above his head as he climbed, clinging on, balancing and hammering all at once. As he neared the top of the tree another hunter climbed up behind and handed him a bunch of smouldering leaves. With these, Sigwazi closed in on the nest and immediately launched into a mid-air dance punctuated with high-pitched yelps. Bees were swarming around the honey thief and stinging as he scooped his hand into the nest and pulled out chunks of honeycomb. These rained down on the other Hadza hunters as Sigwazi tossed them below. They cupped their hands to their mouths and started to feast, spitting out pieces of wax as they ate, leaving behind warm melting liquid that tasted both sweet and sour, bright and acidic like citrus. As I joined them I could feel writhing larvae inside my mouth and the crunch of dead bees. The honeyguide bird perched silently nearby, waiting for its share of the raid once the crowd of hunters had gone. Fewer than two hundred Hadza live fully as hunter-gatherers, making them the last people in Africa to practise no form of agriculture. Sigwazi disappearing up a giant Baobab tree to reach the bees' nest Honey was taken back to the camp and shared. BACK TO ALL

  • Oloton Maize

    OLOTON MAIZE Extract from Part Two: Cereal Oloton Maize - Oaxaca, Mexico Oloton maize has been planted and tended by the Mixe people over thousands of years. It’s at risk of extinction before we even fully understand its complexity. The extraordinary potential of this very rare variety of maize is a reminder of why we need to save precious genetic resources. It also shows us how food diversity only exists because of the communities who value them. In the early 1980s, an American plant scientist called Howard-Yana Shapiro climbed thousands of metres to reach remote villages in the eastern highlands of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The area is home to the Mixe people. No one knew when or how the Mixe had settled in the rugged mountains, and there is little archaeology to explain their history. The soldier and explorer Hernán Cortés, who had conquered the Aztecs, was thwarted by the Mixe. ‘Their land is so rocky that it cannot be crossed even on foot,’ he wrote in 1525, ‘for I have twice sent people to conquer them, who were unable to do so because of the roughness of the terrain, and because the warriors are very fierce and well-armed.’ By the 1980s, just a few Mixe villages were still left in isolation, and when Shapiro reached the top of his climb and walked into one, he was confronted with the strangest plant he had ever seen. The plant was a type of maize known as Olotón, but it grew nearly twenty feet high and had a bizarre, captivating root system. Most plants grow with their roots underground, but this plant also had them sprouting from high up its thick stalks, reaching out into the open air. From these bright orange, aerial roots, shaped like fingers, there dripped a glistening gel. The maize was oozing mucus. Also remarkable was that any maize could grow so high up the mountain and in such poor soil. The Mixe village was so remote that no chemical fertiliser could ever have made it there. The local farmers weren’t even growing the maize in a milpa (from the Aztec term for ‘maize field’). In this traditional system beans are grown alongside the cereal to fix nitrogen into the soil. Somehow, these alien-looking plants were feeding themselves. At least, that was the hunch Shapiro left with; that the strange mucus dripping from roots growing above ground was providing the plant with all the nitrogen it needed. The theory seemed unlikely. It broke all the rules. If it was true then this could be a game changer. Fertiliser costs farmers around the world billions of dollars a year and has great environmental costs, from the energy used to make it, to the greenhouse gases it releases, and the rivers and oceans it pollutes. The problem was that forty years ago, Shapiro had no means of testing his hunch. Other scientists also made the climb up the ‘scorched hill’, but still no one could figure out the glistening mucus. Meanwhile, at the University of Wisconsin a microbiologist named Eric Triplett, who hadn’t seen the maize, or even known of the Mixe village, published a scientific paper in 1996 which set out a radical hypothesis: the ‘holy grail’ of cereals – maize that can take nitrogen from the air and feed itself – was biologically possible and could evolve. Such a discovery, he added, ‘would be of enormous economic value’ and would ‘improve human health’ as it would decrease the amount of nitrate in our water and in our food. For years, Triplett’s theory remained just that, a theory. He did, however, have some advice for any plant explorers setting off in search of this holy grail. Echoing Vavilov a century earlier, if something this extraordinary did exist, he said, it would be found close to the origins of maize, in its centre of diversity where its gene pool was greatest: southern Mexico. BACK TO ALL

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