Brainfood: Why measure genetic diversity?

Nibbles: Mugumu, Gates, Fixation, OSA, USDA, Panicum, Digitaria, Britgrub, Wheat, ICRISAT, Svalbard

  1. Blog post on the importance of the mugumu tree in Kikuyu culture.
  2. Alas, no sign of mugumu trees on the Kenyan farm visited by Bill Gates recently. But there were chickens, drought-tolerant maize and mobile phones…
  3. …and there may soon be crops engineered for nitrogen fixation too, if his foundation’s project with the University of Cambridge comes through.
  4. Speaking of maize, here’s a nice illustrated story of how the Organic Seed Alliance is helping farmers grow their own tortilla corn in the Pacific Northwest.
  5. To generalize and contextualize the above, read this USDA e-book on plant collections and climate change.
  6. Dr Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute just got a grant to study broomcorn millet domestication and dispersal in Central Asia. There may be lessons for present-day adaptation to climate change, says the blurb.
  7. There are probably lessons about adaptation to climate change also to be had from Kew’s work on fonio and other traditional crops in Guinea.
  8. I wonder if Kew boffins are also working on bere, perry and other endangered British foods though.
  9. It’s always nice to see someone first learn about genebanks, and how they can help with the whole climate change thing.
  10. Meanwhile, in India, ICRISAT gets a stamp, which however doesn’t look very much like India or ICRISAT to me. Plenty of broomcorn millet in its genebank, by the way.
  11. Plenty of seeds from the ICRISAT genebank in Svalbard, as Asmund Asdal will no doubt point out on 10 February.

Food diversity, every day

Yet another thoroughly satisfying Eat This Newsletter from Jeremy. Here are two snippets on crop diversity, but there’s lots more…

Talking about Eating to Extinction

Dan Saladino’s book Eating to Extinction has justifiably won all sorts of awards since it came out about 18 months ago. Capitalising on that and the interest more generally in vanishing foods and ingredients, Dan and his chums put together a Food Diversity Day on 13 January. I was unable to watch any of it for a host of reasons, but a post by Patricia Bixler Reber on her marvellous Researching Food History website reminded me that all of it is now online. There’s probably enough there to keep you busy for a good long while, and if there isn’t, Researching Food History is always good for a suggestion or two. I’d already booked for one on 31 January that promises to be a bit of a myth-buster (and that may yet become an episode).

Preserving Potato Diversity

Dan Saladino doesn’t devote an awful lot of space to the always-humble potato, which is by no means a criticism; there is so much more to be concerned about. But I suspect he is well aware of some of the more exotic potatoes of the Andes and beyond, with their colourful flesh and skin. Diverse efforts to promote these varieties, by encouraging high-end restaurants as much as low-grade snacks, have had some success in Peru. The latest brings Ecuador into the fold, with crisps/chips made from ancestral varieties known locally as black heart and red heart. The tubers are grown by a collective of 180 small farmers, who are guaranteed a stable price for their crop. I hope they use some of that cash to improve their family nutrition.

And if you’re a gardener with a hankering for some creative potato diversity of your own, I highly commend true potato seed; read a bit about it thanks to Modern Farmer.

Nibbles: Eating to Extinction, Livestock Conservancy, Pastoral diversification, Donkeys, ICARDA, USDA, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Duragna, Baked bean bread, Kenosha Potato Project, Landrace marketing, Gene editing

  1. All the videos from the recent Eating to Extinction event in London celebrating food diversity.
  2. If you want to eat rare breeds or their products, the Livestock Conservancy has a website for you.
  3. ILRI policy brief on how pastoral systems can usefully diversify.
  4. The BBC rounds up the history of the domestication of the donkey without, alas, mentioning the Livestock Conservancy or pastoral diversification. Spoiler alert: ancient Roman donkeys were really big.
  5. NPR interviews the manager of the ICARDA genebank in Lebanon.
  6. Local Oregon paper visits the USDA genebank in Pullman.
  7. It’s the turn of the Native Seed/SEARCH genebank to feature in the news.
  8. Want to know what “duragna” is? This press release from Cornell will explain all. I think we included the original paper in a recent Brainfood, but I can’t be bothered checking. Anyway, trust me, it’s interesting. Spoiler alert: it has to do with cereal diversity.
  9. Brits told to grow more faba beans and use them to make bread. Census takers not available for comment.
  10. Fascinating project on the history of saffron cultivation in eastern England. Now that would spice up all that faba bean bread.
  11. The Kenosha Potato Project deconstructed to within an inch of its life by Modern Farmer. We’ve blogged about this innovative breeding project here before, have a look. Ah no, I just have, and in fact we haven’t, though we have blogged about William Whitson, an independent tuber breeder, who is however a long-time member of KPP.
  12. Meanwhile, in Peru, local potato landraces are finding a new market via chips/crisps. Pretty sure we’ve blogged about this too. We are so on the ball.
  13. Gene editing for conservation? Yes, why not? But nothing on crop and livestock species in this succinct explainer, alas.

Brainfood: Neolithic microbiomes, Transeurasian languages, Rice history, Chinese Neolithic, Indo-European origins, Chalcolithic stews, Indus Valley hydrology, Bronze Age opium, Cassava storage