My friends over at the Food Declaration Facebook page posted this piece from the NY Times. It deals with the loss of diversity in apple varieties.
I agree mostly with her premise, but I think her timescale should be examined. Compared to the 1905 stats cited in the article, we certainly have seen a decline in varieties and local specialties. But more recently? When I was a kid in the ’70’s, apples were red or yellow. I remember my Mother and Grandmother being very happy when Granny Smiths were once again available. Today? Fujis, Galas, Braeburns… plus other varieties I can’t think of off the top of my head are avaiable even in my nearby chain supermarket. On a shorter timescale the trend is positive.
Of course, the broader context of the article is about our food culture, and not just apples. Have we forever lost a way of life, and was it sacrificed at the alter of corporate interests?
We once had the kind of local food and small farm culture mourned in this article. Sadly it is a shadow of its former self, but not because of giant supermarkets and corporate agribusiness. It’s because in that time and that place, people who KNEW the difference between apple varieties and lived or worked on small family farms CHOSE to give it up for a better paycheck in town and more convenience in the kitchen. Monsanto and Krogers and Walmart came later. They are responses to this shift, not the original cause. (That they later accelerated and perpetuated the shift, I don’t deny.) So when we had this culture, we chose to give it up. Now that it is nearly extinct, will we choose to bring it back?
Personally, I’d love to think so. My breakfast this morning included eggs from our own hens and honey from our local bee guy. (Maybe some of my pollen is in there somewhere.) My to do list includes planting five varieties of figs to be marketed locally, and having our Nigerian Dwarf doe bred so we can have cheese next summer (And more goats!) So when it comes to the value of fresh food and minor varietals, I’m a believer. But as to how many others share this enthusiasm? Not so much.