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The Green Life: Just Eat It: How to Save Endangered Food

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July 29, 2009

Just Eat It: How to Save Endangered Food

Saving tomatoes The last thing most environmentalists want to do with an endangered species is eat it. Still, that’s exactly what biologists with several sustainable food organizations would have us do.

Our food’s biodiversity is dwindling, thanks to decades of selecting certain strains for their ability to be mass-produced. Take apples, for example, as does this Miller-McCune article about the topic: 15,000 species of this favorite fall fruit once grew in North America. Now, just 10 percent remain for us to choose from.

Why is biodiversity important in the food we eat? Well, for one thing, once you move beyond its funky design, a juicy heritage tomato is far more enjoyable than one of the watery, mass-produced varieties. But food biodiversity is also critical to our survival as a species.

When a crop is whittled down to just one genetically engineered strain, there's little wiggle room for dealing with the many challenges nature hurls its way. Consider the blights, cankers, and viruses that have recently threatened citrus, wheat, bananas, and -- harrowingly -- chocolate.

Realizing that it will take a concerted effort to eat our way back to biodiversity, several organizations have organized programs:

-- Slow Food USA has catalogued more than 200 food species currently facing extinction that we should try to eat.

--The Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) alliance encourages chefs, the trendsetters of food movements, to use heritage foods in their kitchens.

--Heritage Food USA provides a wealth of information about how to eat and grow endangered food. 

These websites can direct you to restaurants that utilize local, endangered foods. Farmers' markets are also great places to find heritage varieties.

--Jamie Hansen

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