Kingsolver’s Immediate Impact

July 27, 2009 at 1:13 pm

As a consumer food public relations and marketing professional, my job relies on finding, building and communicating stories for my client’s food brands. Storytelling is a magical and romantic way to connect with a listener and, if done right, compels the listener to take action on a delivered message.

For the purpose of this blog, I am taking on the role as a listener and Barbara Kingsolver is my storyteller. Kingsolver has penned a book that is shaping the way we think about how we consume food and where it comes from. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she takes the reader on her family’s year long journey to eat as closely to home as possible by living off their land and neighboring farmers land.

As an urbanite living off my land (e.g. the herb boxes along my condo patio railing) is not a possibility but I find as the localvore movement has grown I have many more options to consume food items grown and raised more closely to my home. Farmers markets, local boutique grocery shops and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs have allowed me to access local bounty to please my weekly cooking needs. My hope is to learn a bit more about the impact of eating local and also pick-up a few new ideas for cooking with seasonal ingredients.

As I have begun reading there are quite a few alarming statistics that have jumped off the page. Industrial-scale agriculture has not only dictated what we eat in the US but is also taking over nations that would normally seem untouched by outside influence. Here are a few items Kingsolver brings to our attention that really irked me:

* Modern U.S. Consumers consume less than 1 percent of vegetable varieties that were grown in the US a century ago

* In Peru, famers once grew more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes but now due to the industrial agriculture influence they grow fewer than a couple dozen varieties

* In our history we have eaten over 80,000 plant species. Today, we as humans consume only eight species (largely due to changes in precipitation and rise of genetically modified corn, soy and canola)

I love food. I love new flavors, building dishes and discovering new ingredients to deliver something tasty. As I become more skilled in the kitchen, I hunger for more variety. How can I go about feeding my passion and my belly if thousands of varieties and species of plants are becoming extinct?! My concrete patio is not going to come to the rescue any time soon but through weekly trips to my local farmers market and weekly CSA packages I hope to play with and promote new plants that may help push others to wake-up to what we are all missing.

As I read through this book, I will continue to blog on how it’s impacted my life and how I find balance with what I know and what I’m learning. How do you plan to explore undiscovered plant and animal varieties to save our taste buds and our diet?



  1. Liz says:

    “In our history we have eaten over 80,000 plant species. Today, we as humans consume only eight species (largely due to changes in precipitation and rise of genetically modified corn, soy and canola)”

    This seems necessarily hyperbolic. I’m quite sure that most readers of this blog consume a much wider diet than this claim implies. If you include corn, soy, canola, and wheat (which most people probably consume on a daily basis), the implication here is that there are only four vegetable species available to us, an idea that’s easily disproved by a visit to any supermarket, a look in the CSA box mentioned in the post, or even the average bag of “spring mix salad.”

    This claim must be rooted in some kind of statistic, but the way it’s stated here doesn’t make much sense. A 2005 New York Times article includes one that seems much more reasonable:

    “Historically, humans utilized more than 7,000 plant species to meet their basic food needs, Esquinas says. Today, due to the limitations of modern large-scale, mechanized farming, only 150 plant species are under cultivation, and the majority of humans live on only 12 plant species, according to research by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

    Most types of food, for example the tomato, consist of several different species, and each species may contain dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties. In the last century, dozens of varieties of corn, wheat and potato have disappeared.”

  2. Lauren says:

    I wonder if the cost of healthy and fresh food will change so dramatically that not only will the poor have trouble accessing it, but so will the middle class. There were periods in history where to be overweight was a sign of your wealth – could it now become that the smaller your waist the larger your wallet? And how will this effect human evolution?

  3. Carrie Becker says:

    Liz, Thanks for the additional background from the Food and Agriculture Organization. Upon further review, Kingsoliver referenced Ecologist Vandana Shiva by writing “three-quarters of all human food now comes from just eight species, with the field quickly narrowing down to genetically modified corn, soy and canola.” So, my earlier statement did not encompass another quarter of human food. I still think this is all very alarming. How do we avoid the extinction of valuable plant species? any tips? I try to do my part by eating a variety of plant species, especially those that are not widely found in our supermarket.

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