Twelve Reasons for Food Variety in World Food Use
Those who are hungry and starving can think of little else. There is no reason for people to go hungry in this world of abundance.
Presented here are twelve reasons to use food variety (hundreds of food products) rather than focusing on a few 'staples' to provide food for the world.
Unfortunately, the most common present approach to help the world's hungry populations involves merely six foods: rice, wheat, maize, cassava, sweet potato, and beans.
This website explores some of the limitations of these foods, and contrasts the benefits of using vital, original plants that are native to each country or area.
1. Minerals and Powerful Secondary Compounds
Many plants and classes of plants contain unique minerals or powerful secondary compounds that provide nutrition and protection against disease. One example is the healthful substance silymarin, which is found in the Milk Thistle Seed. This substance is found almost nowhere else.
A wide variety of foods in the diet ensures that these unique nutrients and substances can be obtained and used by the body.
The six staples listed in the beginning are not high in these protective factors, and not particularly high in a broad spectrum of nutrients.
2. Independence of Food Production
The variety approach utilizes indigenous crops that can lead to self-sustenance on the part of hungry populations. With more foods and plants that can be eaten, people have more options. Small tracts and plots of ground can be used, and the food is fresher.
On the other hand, the traditional approach to hunger relief relies on a very few non-local foods. These foods are listed in the previous page.
Using few foods for hunger relief leads to dependence and the necessity of a constant stream of support from wealthier areas. The latter approach also requires extensive (and often costly) transportation.
3. Food Production Skills
Using a variety of foods, local people are instructed in growing and gathering skills that increase their capability of food production and procurement. Teaching a man to fish, or pick, or plant, or sprout, or farm, truly can feed him for a lifetime.
Providing bulk staples to temporarily appease hunger does nothing to increase these food-procuring skills. In fact, after years of this kind of aid, local societies can lose nearly all the native food acquiring skills they once had.
4. Appreciating and Using Culture and Climate
With hundreds of food options, each area can choose many foods that have been part of their culture and climate for generations. The food products used to alleviate hunger in one area may vary considerably from those foods used in a different area. Food production for a group of people has to be specific to their culture and climate to be successful in the long term.
On the other hand, limiting food relief to six crops ignores culture and climate and eliminates the benefits that can accrue from using local foods. Cultural eating traditions and practices are lost, to the great detriment of the people who are used to their native foods.
5. Fresh and Uncooked Foods
With extensive variety, much of the diet can be eaten fresh and uncooked, saving the precious resources of the population. Weston Price, in his hallmark book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration", showed that healthy populations throughout the world eat a percentage of their food without cooking.
The six staples in predominant use all require cooking, further depleting the resources of poor populations. In many localities, trees and forests are being lost not to lumber production, but to cooking fires.
6. More Plentiful Food – Less Chance of Famine
A multitude of food crops offer a range of harvest times throughout the year. Many harvest times of many crops reduce the chance of a major crop failure inducing hunger in any one year.
Reliance on a few major crops increases the risk of hunger due to crop failure. When successful food production requires extensive technology, help from outside the area, hybridized seed, and other political and economic factors, the possibility of famine is increased.
7. Increased Nutrition
When a variety of foods are used for production, they can be chosen for their freshness and nutrition. Any food that can be grown fresh in that climate, in fertile soil, and eaten in season, will add to the total food supply.
On the other hand, the limited foods currently provided are chosen for their ease of transportation and storage, and not for their nutritional makeup. In all food transportation around the world, freshness and nutrition needs are often balanced against ease of transportation needs.
In the majority of cases, freshness and nutrition needs lose in this battle. This is why it is essential for as many foods as possible to be grown locally.
8. Higher in Overall Minerals, Lower in Starch
Food variety will provide a greater quantity of antioxidants, minerals, and other nutrients, and much less starch. Wild, original and heirloom strains of food plants are most often much higher in nutrients than hybrids.
The six staples are (in general) quite low in antioxidants and minerals, and extremely high in starch.
9. Stronger Food Plants
When choosing a variety of native crops for foods, many of these will be (heirloom) non-hybrid plants which exhibit greater resistance to disease and a decreased need for artificial fertilizer or insecticide.
Hybrid plants, even when grown locally, are weaker plants that require more human care and intervention to reach maturity. Some hybrids can no longer grow at all in the wild, and have become completely dependent on human protection in the form of artificial fertilizers and insecticides and herbicides. They have lost any natural resistance to pests.
10. We Are Suited to a Varied Diet
Ruth Adams, in her book "Eating in Eden – The Nutritional Superiority of Primitive Foods", shows that primitive cultures have typically eaten a great variety of foods, often over 100 foods throughout the season.
Even though the diets in the cultures presented in this book differ markedly from one another, they all ate a great variety of foods by modern standards.
We were never designed to live healthy lives on a few starchy staple crops. The starches and sugars in these hybridized plants decrease the vitality and health of native populations that consume them to a large extent.
11. Less Food Required
With the increased nutritional makeup of an extensive variety of food plants, less food is actually required for optimal health. This may lead more quickly to self-sustaining agricultural operations and total sufficiency.
On the other hand, when less nutritious starchy food is provided to populations, more food is required, which continues dependence on exterior sources. This continuing aid requires political involvement that in many countries often deteriorates into a problematic situation.
12. Increased Mental Health, Confidence, and Happiness
Native populations typically perform better in many areas (mental health, satisfaction with life, self-esteem) when able to grow and provide their own food. Thus focusing on a variety of foods helps these people become happier as well as healthier.
On the other hand, divorcing people from their connection with the land (even if they have food to eat) tends to create or worsen social problems. As self-esteem and confidence drop, crime increases. Overall well-being and happiness decrease.
Theories and assumptions to explore
More food is available when we (as a general rule) eat lower on the food chain. However, this does not negate the limited and intelligent use of animal products.
Food from trees requires some up front work (and a waiting time), but then provides more food per input of work, than most other growing methods.
The greater the percentage of the population (of each country, and the world) who grow some food, the better able we are to feed the world. We should consider it dangerous (and not a success) when only 2 percent of the population can feed the rest.
The less fossil fuel used for machinery and fertilizers, the more sustainable is the agriculture.
We each need about 2000 calories per day minimum. So with 7 billion people on the earth we need to produce an average of 14 trillion calories per day in the form of food.