Biodiversity; or, the Case for Purple CarrotsMay 6, 2016
‘Biodiversity’ conjures up images of primary school jungle illustrations, perhaps a cross section drawing of birds and insects in the skies, plants and animals on land, layers of worms in the soil beneath. But does it make you think of a purple carrot?
Biodiversity has much more immediate importance for us than hazy school room lessons when it comes to our diets. In terms of the food we eat, it’s important that what we consume is sustainable and varied. Being mindful of eating a bio-diverse range of foods is the key to supporting the environment and maybe even saving the world!
There are basically three levels of biodiversity: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. Both genetic and species diversity are important when it comes to food.
More than 80% of plant and animal species found in Australia grow exclusively in this country. Cooking with them and eating them encourages increased production of these amazing varieties, and means they’re more likely to hang around. With beautiful flavours like lemon myrtle and mountain pepper, and fruits like finger limes, quandong, rosella and Davidson’s plums, they’re real treats to be enjoyed.
For newbies to native Australian eating, you may want to experience how good it can be when it’s done well. If you live in Sydney, Indigenous elder Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, from the Gamillaroi people of north-west NSW, runs the Gardener’s Lodge café at Victoria Park in Camperdown. Their menu features such Aussie gems as Buttermilk Wattle Seed Pancakes and Eggs Benedict with Wilted Warrigal Greens. Our mouths are watering already!
Besides being amazing unique flavours, supporting native fauna through species diversity also encourages the ecosystem as a whole to thrive. So everybody wins!
Genetic diversity refers to the variety of genes within a species, and this where stuff starts to get really interesting. Over the centuries of farming, humans have cultivated over 7, 000 different plants and raised 30 species of animals for both food and other uses. When we think about the kind of fresh food that’s available at the supermarket though, that number starts to dwindle.
Sometimes, a particular variety of fruit or veg becomes popular for good reason: it’s bigger, or sweeter, or its crops hardier. There are very good reasons why the cream of the fruit and vegetable world rises to the top. But there are also other sillier reasons why a type of a certain vegetable becomes dominant. For example, did you know that there are over 80 types of carrots, originating in India and Afghanistan in the 10th century? The carotene carrot (that’s the orange one) only became the dominant variety in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Netherlands, and the orange variety was particularly encouraged as a sign of patriotism and loyalty to the Dutch king, orange being the national colour of the Netherlands.
Orange carrots are all well and good, but when only one type of a species exists, it’s suddenly a lot more vulnerable. Crops can be destroyed by disease, ecosystems altered and climate change can have devastating effects of food sources. One way to combat this is to eat seasonally, and give heritage varieties of veg and fruit a chance. Less popular types of tomatoes, for example, can taste just as amazing, and create a more diverse species that ultimately is more resilient to changing environmental conditions. Even picking up the less visually perfect fresh produce not only reduces waste, it encourages the agriculture industry to value these tasty (if ugly) little guys. And after all, it’s what’s inside that counts, isn’t it?