A book on food and human history

I read The Economist regularly, but was unaware, until I purchased the book, An Edible History of Humanity, that Tom Standage, listed as the magazine's business affairs editor, was also an author. I've just started leafing through his 2009 book, having finished reading one of the two book club selections I needed to get through by next week. But even perusing the book over a few minutes, I've already seen it connects to a number of topics I'm interested in.

One of those is the ongoing controversy about genetically modified food. Early in Standage's book, he discusses the progression of teosinte, an ancestral form of maize, to modern corn. It seems clear to me that human selection of which crops had their seeds spread was responsible for this. The author notes that a cave in Mexico has a series of ancient cobs that vary from half an inch to eight inches in length and talks of the high likelihood that farmers of the past would have deliberately chosen those mutated maize varieties that produced larger ears.

So we've been fiddling with our food crops for a long time. Well and good in many or even most instances; basically I have no problem with the concept . But Standage also discusses the 1845 Irish potato famine where an over-dependence on a single food and a devestating crop failure caused by a fungus infection, led to a million deaths.

So on the one hand I often approve of our modifying our food sources, but, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I personally think some of the heirloom varieties of vegetables which are available in our local farmers markets just plain taste better than their super-market cousins. They also may protect us in a fashion by their being different.

I don't want us to become reliant on a single variety, a solitary kind of almost any food crop. The need to produce more corn, more tomatoes, more potatoes, may have been one factor leading to the highly productive mega-farm concept of agriculture, but I worry that it also exposes us as a country, or even as a species, to the risk of famines if a new vegetable disease and/or climate change wipes out a particular strain of a crop or multiple crops.

Is this at all a realistic issue? We now have highly developed, well-connected sources of production and shipping of food items, but we also have a burgeoning human population and the threat of global warming, derided by some, but strongly concurred with by many.

I'm in favor of keeping multiple food sources and expanding our choices whenever possible.

That's enough for today; I realize I've tried to connect some dots that may seem isolated from each other, but I think they're well worth cogitating over.

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