Experts offer odds of food riots in Britain, and this Limey wants to know what to do with his. In between, diverse views on agricultural biodiversity.
A couple of episodes back, during our chat about food riots, I asked Diane Purkiss why we had not yet seen food riots in contemporary England. She thought that one reason might be that people weren’t actually starving. Also:
For people, though, to riot, they have to think that their rioting is going to change something. And I think one reason we’re not seeing a lot of popular unrest is that people have lost any hope that anyone can change anything, really.
A large group of academics has now looked at how the food system might trigger civil unrest in Britain and it makes for an extremely interesting read.
Defining civil unrest as “a societal event in which 1 in 2000 people have been injured in the UK,” they asked 58 food system experts how likely they thought that might be in the next 10 years and the next 50 years. Over a ten-year horizon, 40% of the experts judged it somewhere between “possible” and “more likely than not”, though nobody considered it “very likely”. Looking out 50 years, the proportion increased to 80%, with some considering it “very likely”. In the near-term, food distribution was judged to be the most likely trigger. Longer-term, the experts split more evenly between food distribution, “geographically isolated pockets of hunger, despite adequate total calories being available to feed the UK population”, with slightly more of them fingering insufficient food, “insufficient calories available to feed the UK population” as the triggering factor.
There is a lot more nuance in the paper, but the conclusion remains. Not enough food, generally or in smaller areas, has the potential to launch food riots. Will that alter anything?
Beauty: In the days before Fast-‘n’-EZ DNA analysis it could be extremely difficult accurately to identify a crop variety. (It still is, Ed.) One approach was to hire skilled artists to create a likeness of the variety, so that others, new and old, could be compared. To begin with, these were three-dimensional models, often moulded from life. Later, watercolours became the best identification. The USDA commissioned skilled artists to create detailed portraits of thousands of plant varieties, especially fruits. These were digitised and released to the public domain in 2019. Now a Toronto-based filmmaker has compiled them into a rather beautiful video, Watch it at Aeon magazine.
Conservation: That video makes much of the need to protect the rights of the plant breeders who create new varieties and indeed historically most seed legislation and a lot of seed breeding has been about intellectual property rights. Older varieties depend today on keen diversity nerds to maintain their special characteristics and to make seeds freely available where possible. Stories of plant breeders and enthusiastic amateurs in the true sense of the word are legion at Eat This Podcast, so here is another: The Art of Resurrecting Heirloom Watermelons.
As someone who eagerly anticipates the first ripe watermelon of the summer and who has to wait for a truly poor example before giving up on them in autumn, I’m sad that we do not in fact have all that much choice of variety here. I did grow the famed Moon and Stars for a couple of seasons, in another life, and it was very good. Now I have to be content to read about Red-N-Sweet, Florida Favourite, Bradford and “Odell’s White Watermelon, which was developed in South Carolina by an enslaved man named Harry [but] named after a subsequent grower, not the man who actually bred it.” Or do I? Anyone in Italy who wants to grow heirloom watermelons, drop me a line.
Liberation: Intellectual property rights and heirloom seed savers are doing their best to keep things just the way they are, but is that a good thing? The heirlooms of today were created to meet the needs of yesterday, and that’s fine for people who still have those needs. But where are the breeders meeting the needs of non-industrial growers today? They are around, of course, but Chris Smith, writing in The Guardian, thinks seedsavers should stop obsessing over heirloom seeds and let plants change.
He definitely has a point. Laser-like focus on variety preservation does block the possibility of adaptive change to new circumstances. But anyone who know how to keep an open-pollinated variety pure already knows enough to cultivate more diversity and select from that, if they choose to. A farmer like Chris Smith has the land and the inclination to do both, and it doesn’t seem to stop the seed enterprises with which he is associated from offering presumably true-to-type heirloom varieties. I suppose what I am saying is to let a thousand flowers bloom. Preserve the old varieties and use them, with perhaps a pinch of commercial and genebank varieties in the mix, to create and select tomorrow’s heirlooms.
First, the serious one. According to El País newspaper, there is a dire shortage of limes in parts of Peru. In an article that loses no opportunity to pun, Renzo Gómez Vega explains that the price of Peru’s lime of choice, the aptly named sublime lime, has increased 16-fold in some places, threatening both ceviche and the Pisco sours needed to accompany it. The shortage has already claimed the scalp of Nelly Paredes del Castillo, Minister of Agrarian Development and Irrigation. She was forced to resign after pointing out that the lime is only 2% of the average Peruvian shopping basket, so use more salt, vinegar and a different variety of lime to create the beloved ceviche. The Minister of Economy survives, so far, despite suggesting sautéed chicken as a ceviche substitute. The article blames the usual suspects for the shortage: El Niño and cyclone Yaku, on top of insufficiently fertilised trees.
Now, the trivial one. No such difficulties have afflicted my own singular lime tree. In fact, it has surpassed all previous performance records, with more than 20 fruits bending the branches, as you can see.
The crisis, then, is what to do with them all. Last year I made a delicious Indian lime pickle and I still have quite a large jar of that left. I will probably make more, in case next year is a dud, but that will still leave several limes to be used. I don’t have a dehydrator, so lime powder is probably out of the question and in any case I’m not even sure what it is or what you do with it, only that it is trendy. A couple of jars of lime curd will be nice. But is there anything else to make with limes that I really ought to try?