The race to save endangered foods


Every week this mystery box shows up at my
doorstep. It’s one of those subscription boxes, except
instead of dog toys or makeup, it’s food from local farmers. And I never know exactly what I’m gonna get. Got some salad greens, asparagus, and red
corn..? But this wasn’t always such an unusual sight. If you look through old seed catalogues like
these ones, you’ll see hundreds of varieties of corn, with names like “Dibbles’ Mammoth,”
“Kendel’s Early Giant,” and my personal favorite, “Potter’s Excelsior”. But none of these varieties exist anymore. American farmers used to grow hundreds of
varieties of sweet corn, tomatoes, and other edible plants. Today, just a tiny fraction of those varieties
are still around. So what happened to all these plants? For most of our time on this planet, humans
have been hunter gatherers. We ate what was nearby. This was still true when we invented farming
10,000 years ago, by cultivating wild plants like Teosinte in Central America and Thorn
Apple in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Over thousands of years, farmers bred these
wild ancestors into foods like corn and eggplant, that we would recognize today. As humans moved around the world, so did the
seeds and farmers continued to breed different varieties to adapt them to their new environments. Which led to a ton of genetic diversity. Farmers could raise different genetic varieties
of different crops. If disease or pests killed one type, there
were others to fall back on. But gradually industrialization and cheap
fossil fuels made us less dependent on what grew well nearby. “Food on the move, from distant parts of the
world comes the great variety of foods Americans demand.” Most farmers switched from growing a variety
of edible plants to a single crop that was easy to process and ship. As this model spread beyond the United States,
older varieties of plants and animals disappeared from farms around the world. By 1970, 90% of the wheat varieties that had
once been grown in China were gone. As were 80% of the varieties of maize or corn
that were once grown in Mexico. By the summer of 1971, more than 85% of the
corn planted in the US was genetically identical. Crop scientists had bred this new corn so
that it grew without a tassel, making it easier to harvest. But because these plants were genetic copies
of one another, that also made them susceptible to the same deadly fungus, Southern Leaf Corn
Blight. It took over the US corn crop, costing farmers
and taxpayers millions of dollars. And the damage would have continued, if it
weren’t for a humble little plant called Teosinte. The wild grass native to Oaxaca, Mexico, and
the common ancestor of the 22,000 known varieties of corn. Teosinte includes a gene for resistance to
the same fungus that was devastating the US corn crop. Scientists halted the damage by crossbreeding
Teosinte with American corn, but that didn’t totally solve the problem of genetic diversity. Today, more than 40% of the corn grown in
the US is derived from just six inbred lines. And seed companies, driven by profit, can
repackage genetic copies of the same seeds for different prices. Farmers plant them, thinking that they’re
genetically diversifying their fields when really they’re not. Since the corn crisis in 1971 disease has
ravaged genetically uniform crops of beans, rice tomatoes, and bananas. And it’s about to get worse. The plants we eat have spent thousands of
years evolving to grow in specific conditions, conditions we are changing rapidly by releasing
more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We depend on corn, wheat, and rice for more
than 60% of our global calories. And by 2050, we’ll have 2 billion more people
to feed. But because of climate change, we’ll actually
be producing less of all three of these crops. We’re going to need plants that can grow in
radically different conditions and the more genetic varieties we save, the better protected
we’ll be. There are seed banks all over the world where
scientists, indigenous communities, and farmers are all preserving older seed varieties. But thousands have already been lost, which
is why it’s so critical to preserve the genetic diversity we still have. The weird stuff, like red popcorn. And the best way to save the seeds that might
save us one day, is to grow them and eat them.




Comments
  1. Can't we just identify/rename current seeds the same as some of the extinct ones? Seed types are a social construct.

  2. There is social activist called Mr.mugilan in tamilnadu who is missing for more than 100 days after proving that the riot happened in tuticorin against sterlite company was planned by police. I request you guys to do a documentary about this issue so that people all over the world would know what happened here in tamilnadu, India.

  3. Well the reason is simple. So you can go to the grocery shop and buy the amount of food you need whenever you want or need it instead of waiting for few months for most of it or at all. Try to farm, let's see how far you'll get.

  4. Notice all the varieties she showed were from around the late 1800s, early 1900s. This is because what caused this was the craze of darwinism. Before and after we had far less.

  5. All I got from this video is that America was racist towards Corn and that we should have black, red, white, and other colored corn

  6. How else do you feed billions of people? Jeez, it's so easy to refute you jokes. Capitalism is the only way to keep us from starving. Or you can try the Maduro diet. FYI, you guys just disproved evolution. jeezzzz.

  7. You don't pronounce maize as "maze"… do your research. there's an emphasis on the I for a reason.

  8. What year is this? Is this how ignorant you are! 10 thousand years , isn't real! Scientists don't know a worm hole from a Fox hole!

  9. We should definitly go back to a more diverse, local way of producing. That would mean more jobs, more respect for nature and when it comes to the meat industry, more respect and well being for animals.
    Thanks for the interesting videos, its good to have creators like you guys talk about those things!

  10. These had to happen since most of the people around the world cares more for digital half eaten apple than the real apple 🍎.

  11. Funny how people talk about the need to adapt crop varieties to a changing climate, then scream bloody murder about genetically engineering crops to do exactly that.

  12. right wingers super mad in the comments lolllll all their fav youtubers r gonna be gone by the end of 2019 heeheheeeee

  13. There are dozens & scores of local varieties of rice, wheat & pulses in North-Central India which I myself have seen going off the shelf in last 20-25 years.

  14. Why are you guys deleting the comments?
    I personally have no problem with you guys I’m just curious why you’re doing it.

    (Edit – this is the 4th time posting this)

  15. Fun Fact: We actually have enough food grown to support the entire population and then some, but the distribution of it is why 70% of the population is starving.

  16. They breed them because they are more efficient and grow in the low levels of CO2 we have in our atmosphere. If a tomato grower wants to grow successfully they have to top the CO2 levels at 1400 parts per million. We only have less than 400

  17. I’m a plant breeder, this is a very inaccurate and misleading video. We select for superior varieties; diversity is maintained in our breeding stocks and in germplasm. The genetics are not extinct. Those diverse lines are often of the most susceptible lines you can find.

  18. Wow, are you sure you are not conservatives? You want to go backwards with technology. We don't need antiquated farming technology, we have biotechnology now. Lets move forward

  19. Seriously I want to order a box with Biodiverse food. Please link me to the subscription box. I have been unsuccessful in finding one

  20. How bout you plant the seed in that same area and wait for beneficial changes (colour, taste, etc.) in it's system? Once a minor change is there, replant those seeds, and continue on and on until it is onto our liking?

  21. You only hinted to with one sentence that food processing plants usually have farmers to grow a given variety of species (in the North American model). It comes with a code book – which contains when to plant, when to fertilize, when to harvest etc. The guidelines in the code book are not negotiable, and conditions are checked upon regularly by the processing plant. The farmer has no choice in this situation at all – the seed is marketed to the processing plant, and they are choosing what is best for them. The upside of this is that we can make more reliable manufacturing plans, save cost on not having processing plant flexibility and more easily manufacture end products which meet standards.

    You could have compared this system, say, to centralized planning of socialist countries in the '50s and '60s (dirt poor Central/Eastern European countries trying to adapt American-style uniformity and land management in agriculture), the situation at the same place nowadays (seed marketed to the farmers, widespread seed license fee circumvention by seed retention and seed black market, less processing plant control on farmers – but less effective processing thereof, varying stance state-by-state on GM), or the cocoa-market (still dominated by small-parcel farmers).

    Having many varieties because of growing crops outside of their natural habitat is also a misled derivation. You will embrace varieties with the best yield and carry on with them – on the new land therefore there will be much less variation within the species. The homeland of a plant carries/nurtures much more variance.

    I could go on for (p)ages…

  22. Red corn and mixed color corn(yellow white red) are still popular in China, but it is a bit like glutinous kind of rice, a bit sticky.

  23. 3:49 What the kind of map is this? Those are areas of releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere or its movement? Cause if releasing, then America is happened to be a little less redder than it should. And Russian uninhabitant regions should be more yellower.

    Just google "carbon dioxide pollution map"

    Vox, I'm a big fan of you(

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