Restaurants in cities all around the world offer a variety of dishes from a wide range of cuisines, and in many cases, far more than one person could sample in their entire life.
People consume approximately 7,000 species of plants. However, only 150 among that 7000 are considered commercially important, which is worth growing to sell. Further coming down, three crops- rice, wheat, and maize - account for about 50 percent of the energy people derive from plants.
Thus, what people eat is becoming far more homogenized.
Rice, a staple food around the world, best illustrates this. From nearly 90,000 varieties of rice stored in gene banks, 40,000 are being cultivated. Yet you might find no more than half a dozen varieties in your supermarket. This may not seem like a big issue. However, the consumer markets promote growing such high-yield varieties of rice which eventually leads to a monoculture - or the practice of growing a single crop in a given area.
And for the record, our experiences with monoculture haven't been that great in the past.
In 1895, Belgian farmers discovered that a load of seed potatoes they had bought from America was contaminated with Phytophthora infestans, a Mexican fungus. The resulting blight caused by the fungus spread rapidly from Belgium to all over the continent, triggering the infamous European Potato famine.
In Ireland, nearly 1 million people, out of a population of 8 million, died of starvation. There were many reasons why the country was so badly affected. The main cause was the fact that a third of the population was dependent on potatoes as a mainstay in their diet. The Irish famine illustrates the consequences of monoculture going wrong.
The loss of genetic variation in species makes them more susceptible to infection and possible extinction. China has lost nearly 90% of the wheat varieties it had 60 years ago and India has 90% of its rice varieties.
While the risk of widespread infection is one problem with monoculture, the underlying issue that drives such problems is that of unsustainable food production to feed an ever-growing population.
In the last hundred years alone, more than 90% of crop varieties are no longer being grown. It is important to remember that varied local food production, which is more resilient to climate change also brings along with it the knowledge of its uses, for example, traditional medicinal knowledge.
As UN Environment Biodiversity expert Marieta Sakalian says “the sustainable management of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and seascapes can support the transition towards healthy diets, and more sustainable consumption and production patterns, in changing climate conditions,”.
We need the contribution of all living beings, small or big, to ensure we can continue living a healthy and sustainable life in a food-secure future.
It's a paradox that to have the few foods we truly love, our best bet is to adopt a more diverse diet, specifically giving importance to local and indigenous varieties.