THEGREENGROK    Statistically Speaking

Statistically Speaking: Diversity in Our Diet

by Bill Chameides | May 13th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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A loss of genetic diversity threatens the survival of the commercial banana. All five major varieties, derived from a single ancestor, are endangered by a single disease.

Because we’re rarely more than a short drive away from a drive-thru, Americans might not even be aware of the increasing trend toward monoculture in our managed ecosystems.  A recent video post illustrated how this trend toward monoculture has decimated urban landscapes.  And if you think that is worrisome, here’s something else to nibble on: the loss of diversity in the plants we eat.

Our Food Supply by the Numbers

Approximate number of plants used by humans around the world for everything from food and medicines to clothing, paper, and beauty products: 100,000

Of those plants how many are edible: 30,000

Of those, how many have people consumed throughout history: 10,000

Of those, how many make up the basis of our diets today: 150

Of those, how many provide 80 percent of the world’s food: 12

Of those, how many provide 60 percent of the world’s food: 4
Who can guess what those four crops are? (Hint: if you’re American, think federal subsidies for the top three.)

Percent of genetic diversity lost in agricultural crops over the last century:  75


Heywood, V. (1991) Conservation of Germplasm of Wild Plant Species. pp. 189-203 in Conservation of Biodiversity for Sustainable Development. (SANDLUND, O.T.,  HINDAR, K. &  BROWN, A.H.D. (eds.). Norwegian University Press and Cambridge.

Wilson, E.O. (1992) The Diversity of Life, Penguin, London.

filed under: agriculture, food, plants, Statistically Speaking

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