The homogenisation and globalisation of diets

One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-10083665 The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that some 75% of the diversity of cultivated crops was lost during the 20th Century and, by 2050, we could lose a third of current diversity.

A recent study by Khoury et al in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, investigated how the composition of crops contributing to human diets has changed over the past 50 years. As suspected by many, diets across the world are becoming more homogenised or more similar with greater reliance on only a handful of crops, notably wheat, rice, potatoes and sugar (energy-dense foods). Wheat is now a major food in 97% of countries. Local and traditional crops, important regionally, such as millet, rye, yams and cassava (many of which are nutrient-dense) are being produced and consumed less. Although the amount of calories, protein and fat we consume has increased…

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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6 Responses to The homogenisation and globalisation of diets

  1. EQFE says:

    I have often thought that the reduction in crop diversity, could easily lead to mass starvation, similar to what we saw during the Irish Potato famine. I rely a great deal on planting a large quantity of different plants to help deter insect pests and avoid the spread of plant disease.
    It is sort of ironic, that this article followed the one on waste. Crops like wheat do have the advantage that they are easily stored.

  2. EQFE says:

    The forgotten crops usually have the advantage of having adapted to local conditions, but I have to wonder who often they have been abandoned because they have a lower yield than the crop that has replaced them. As a gardener, I have the advantage of not relying on what I grow to meet my calorie or protein requirements, If this wasn’t the case, I would have to grow field corn or wheat. and more potatoes, and no sweet corn.

    • argylesock says:

      I don’t think the forgetting of certain crops is so simple. I think it’s partly political. Farmers’ and growers’ options rely on traditional knowledge, and also on knowledge transfer from research. Decisions about research funding are influenced by politics.

      I’ve read (and blogged here about) how in recent decades, there have been dramatic yield improvements where crop varieties and farming methods have improved.

  3. EQFE says:

    Most discussions of GMOs don’t contain much beyond the usual shrill, hype, hate and fear-mongering from both sides.
    This is a bit different – Michael Pollan introduced Pamela Ronald – a plant geneticist – to his class and conducted a respectful, thoughtful debate. Here is The New Yorker article.

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