Do you love bread? A good sandwich...a flaky croissant...golden buttered toast...mmmm...(I warned you!) If you also try to put nutritious foods in your body, you may feel guilty for your bread habits. And when trying to choose which breads to buy, you may feel confused! There are so many words thrown around: 'multi-grain', 'stone-ground', 'wheat', 'wholewheat', 'whole grain'...what do they mean??
Thankfully, the Lexicon of Sustainability is coming to our rescue to answer those questions, and delve even deeper into the world of grains: how has industrial farming changed the game, and how are we changing it back?
Watch the video here!
I love that this video talked a bit about landraces, but I don't think it covered this issue nearly enough. So, here's some info for your edification:
What are landraces? Wikipedia had this handy, simple definition: "A landrace is a domesticated, regional ecotype; a locally adapted, traditional variety of a domesticated species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species."
As you can see, landraces differ a great deal from the breeds of foods we find in industrial farming: it's easy to point to GMOs as the antithesis of land races, and the monocultures they encourage are indeed very problematic from this standpoint, but the technology itself could theoretically be used to enhance or recreate lost land races. Hybridizing different breeds to create a plant that yields in very consistent ways is just as much a disruption of the magic of landraces as tearing them out and planting GMOs in their place.
Basically, landraces have adaptive strategies that allow them to survive the conditions they have been grown in for hundreds or thousands of years: drought or mold resistance, quick-growing for a short season...these are just a few examples. It's easy to produce these tendencies through a strong breeding program, weeding out (no pun intended) traits that pop up in the genome that aren't helpful.
This seems like a win-win: the landrace seeds will inevitably produce some plants that won't produce well in the common growing conditions: those recessive genes in the genome will come up. With lots of hybridization, we can take that to a minimum, increasing production.
BUT. You knew there was a 'but' coming, didn't you? Sometimes a season, or a few seasons in a row, won't bring the expected challenges: an unexpected flood, a late hard frost, a new pest insect. These are challenges that can easily decimate a crop! But a landrace crop produces lots of slightly different plants every season. Some of those plants will likely have the traits needed to survive the onslaught. This saves some of the harvest, but production for that year will likely still be very low. Where landraces shine are in the next year, and the year after that! Saving those seeds that survived is its own form of breeding: putting traits that saved these plants back into future plants, so that if conditions continue in this way, MORE of the crop will survive next year! If not, those standard traits are still in the genome, and they'll come back out, too.
Because humans have been growing crops all over the world for thousands of years, we have incredibly diverse, and niche-adapted landraces of tons of important crops! It's a really beautiful gift from our ancestors!
Land races are an insurance policy from Mother Nature that we just can't replicate through human intervention. The very complexity that we try to breed out to make controlling these plants easier is what makes them amazing!
But because we love our food, and our harvesting practices, to be consistent in an industrial settings, landraces are going extinct all the time. We are losing this precious inheritance at an alarming rate! How can you help? If you grow anything at all from seeds, take the time to ask around and get a hold of some seeds that have been saved, and passed down for generations, instead of the typically hybridized ones you'll find in your gardening center. If you get the opportunity to buy foods or products that come from landrace seeds, put your money there! You won't be sorry.
And yes, read labels! Look at ingredients! Bread should only have a few: flour, water, yeast, salt, maybe a little sugar or honey. There may be seeds or dried fruits, or herbs added in, but a short ingredient list that begins with wholegrain or wholewheat flour is the way to go.