As the saying goes, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Imagine just being able to eat from the contents of that basket – eggs. Exclusively eggs. Aside from boring your tastebuds to death, the government’s official guide to healthy eating is all like, eat a “wide variety of nutritious foods”. And speaking of eggs, some really smart people have made the point that diversity on the plate and biodiversity on the farm have a chicken-and-egg circular connection – and it leads straight back to us. It’s why food biodiversity is so important:
“Biodiversity is the lifeblood of what we eat.” – Two smart academics who edited a really long book on the subject.
“Life supports life itself and we are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse.” – Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF.
“What we do to our ecosystems, what we do to our food is what we do to ourselves. When we talk about depletion in soil and water, we’re also talking about something being depleted in us.” – Simran Sethi, author and real chocolate advocate. We like her.
What is food biodiversity, and how worried should I be?
Food biodiversity is growing a variety of foods. However, as eaters, what we fill our plates with helps determine what farmers grow (or don’t grow) on the field. And it turns out eaters and growers alike haven’t been doing the best job at diversifying what’s on our plates. Recent 2016 studies showed that the destruction of wilderness for farming and agriculture are the biggest causes of an alarming 58% drop in animal populations, and biodiversity more generally. The FAO estimates 75% of crop diversity has been lost in the last century. Australia has played its part too, with contentious policy changes making land clearing easier on farms in NSW and QLD.
What can I do?
Before you let total and utter despair get the best of you – there are a few simple ways we can diversify what we eat. It’s not the whole solution, but it is a start. Here are the easiest things we’ve successfully managed to change (and still have time for Game of Thrones bingeing after):
Go for “indie” staples
“Everyone’s like, “Huh? I go to the grocery store and there’s tons of stuff.” But there’s one [breed of] cow providing 90 percent of all of that diary, all of that butter, all of that ice cream, all of that milk. There’s one [type of] banana, there are three [types of] apple.” – Simran Sethi
As an easy first step, scribble down the foods you eat most of, and look at different varieties of those staples you could try. Yep, that means embracing your inner food hipster and in this case, it’s totally a good thing. Pick heirloom (aka “alternative”) varieties of the usual staples you buy, and embrace what you’ve not heard of before. And don’t forget to drink to your new plate and palate over a real craft beer. Here’s a good (if US-based) rundown on what the hell heirloom varieties even are.
Make a few simple swaps
Rice, wheat, and maize supply 60% of the world’s energy needs. When you really think about it, it’s actually pretty crazy how much wheat we end up consuming in the form of bread, pasta (that includes cous cous by the way), pizza and baking. Here are a few simple switches you can start making:
- Barley instead of rice or pasta in risottos, soups and casseroles.
- Millet instead of cous cous (cook up a big batch of millet and freeze to use throughout the week).
- Get your Frenchie on and discover the joys that are crispy, lacy-edged buckwheat crêpes. Byyyye pancakes.
- When you’re baking, try out some new flours starting with small amounts – start subbing in a quarter or eighth of the amount of plain flour. Spelt and rye are easy places to start, but your nearest bulk or organic food shop will have more options, like teff or amaranth.
Veggies & Fruit
Embarrassingly, only 4% of Aussies get enough veggies matter into them. And if your excuse is “veggies suck,” trying out new ones is going to be a win-win:
- Pick those less familiar veggies that make you go “?” If you’re not at the farmers market asking the grower what the heck it is and how to use it, get on that glorious thing, Google.
- Support farms that grow a range of crops. The easiest way to do this is by shopping at a farmers’ market, or choosing a local veggie box delivery with details about its farmers.
- If you’re a pretty rad cook, use nature’s list, not a shopping list – go with a local veggie box delivery. Did we mention this saves you time deciding what to get? Score one for team efficiency.
- If you’re at the farmers’ market, ask the farmer what they’re struggling to sell and get that! As a bonus you will also totally make their day.
- Apparently Australians struggle to eat enough legumes and beans (proteins from plants), which is why we created the lazy person’s guide to actually enjoying them.
- If you’re eating animals, eating the whole bloody animal means you’ll get the most nutrient-dense bits, and be making the most of that animal. Here’s how to ease into offal.
If none of this is sounding particularly new to you, let’s not forget that diversifying what’s on our forks is just the beginning – there are bigger systemic issues at play too. From local land clearing laws to international infrastructure and policy, there are plenty of other areas we should be flexing our citizen-muscle too. Check out page 5 of this book all about diversifying food and diets.
Image credit (top to bottom): Nikki To, Kit Baker