Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Potatoes and Monoculture

I actually have several miniature potato specimens to show off, but I need to gather my photos together. This stuffed potato below with butter on top was made by Pippaloo of Etsy.

Did you know?
Potatoes originated from Peru, but were brought by Spanish colonists four centuries ago to Europe, where they became a food staple. In fact, it may have aided in the population explosion of the 18th and 19th centuries because potatoes were so easy to cultivate even in poor soil.

There are a thousand different types of potatoes which makes it genetically stronger than other produce you find in the market. Organic farmers plant several varieties to hedge against crop failure--more than the four or so types of potatoes you see in the supermarket nowadays. The sad part of monoculture in modern times is that agribusinesses let only a few types dominate the market--for example, Russet potatoes are favored by McDonald's because they want long golden fries. Monoculture can be risky, because farmers have to put in more pesticides and artificial ingredients into the soil to ensure that the genetically identical crops survive plant diseases and pests. This in turns leads to run-offs of pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers into rivers and water sources. The fittest bugs also survive to procreate and their offspring are more likely to survive pesticide sprays, which in turns mean farmers eventually use more potent pesticides.

Next time you go to the supermarket note the different variety of vegetables and fruits. Note that you can get many types of apples, but sadly, your choices in bananas probably would be Cavendish or Chiquita. Our grandparents would have enjoyed the sweeter and tastier Gros Michel bananas, which were unfortunately wiped out by Panama disease by the 1950s. In fact, exporters of the Gros Michel bananas almost went bankrupt because they only grew one kind of banana on their plantations.

My boyfriend is an environmentalist. I also have a co-worker, whose husband is a biochemistry professor. Ah, yeah, I won't bore you with the details, but go organic if you can or at least shop at the local farmers' market...it's really better for the earth and the health of your family :)

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