#177 Eating to Extinction. How to save the world’s rarest foods with Dan Saladino

Have you ever eaten a Murnong? Or maybe an O-Higu Soybean? Or perhaps a vanilla orange?

Perhaps you’ve heard of an Alb lentil from Swabia in Germany or maybe the Oloton maize from Oaxaca in Mexico?

If you’re anything like me, somebody who truly loves food and regards themselves as a bit of a food buff, you won’t have heard of any of them!

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To paraphrase my guest on the show today, food journalist Dan Saladino, of the 6,000 plant species humans have eaten over time, the world now mostly eats just 9. 3 of them – rice, wheat and maize – provide 50% of all calories. Add potato, barley, palm oil, soy and sugar (beet and cane) and you have 75% of all the calories that fuel our species. As thousands of foods have become endangered and extinct, a small number have risen to dominance.

And it’s killing us.

The lack of diversity on our plates affects our health and the systematic stripping out of crops adaptive mechanisms, the result of 1000s of years of adaptions, renders them exposed to parasites, pests and disease.

But Dan provides a dose of hope. The green revolution completely changed our agricultural climate in a post war world. Will rising food prices, climate instability, rising rates of chronic illness and our crops vulnerability to disease force another revolution?

Dan Saladino is a food journalist and broadcaster. He joined The Food Programme in 2006 and for more than a decade has travelled the world recording stories of foods at risk of extinction – from cheeses made in the foothills of a remote Balkan mountain range to strange red varieties of rice in southern China. 

His book, Eating to Extinction, is a journey through the past, present and future of food, a love letter to the diversity of global food cultures, and a work of great urgency and hope.

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