Why an article about seeds in a blog about cooking/food? Because it all starts with seeds. Without them, we would have no food and no cooking.
Thousands of varieties exist. But we have lost ¾ of the diversity we had in the past. Why? Because of the uniformity of culture and standardization of agriculture. In the fifties, just after World War Two, European countries needed food and growth. Some seeds were introduced, more resistant, giving more productivity and bigger good looking fruits and vegetables. The traditional varieties began to disappear, because they were not used anymore. Today, only 150 varieties are used to feed the planet. And only 5 varieties provide 60% of human food-energy needs: rice, wheat, maize, millet, sorghum.
Why that? Farmers cannot use the seeds they want. They have to use the ones that are registered in the catalogue of the European Union. Most of the seeds that are registered there are sold by few big companies. And more than 70% of these seeds are hybrids. This means that crops are uncertain. If the farmers want to plan these seeds the next year, they are not certain to obtain identical crops as the year before. And so, not certain of there production. This is a good way of making money for these companies as farmers need to buy seeds every year, and to make the farmers dependents. So if a seed is not registered, the farmer cannot use it. He can try to pass the registration but it’s difficult and expensive. Who has the scientific capacities and the money to do so? The few big companies. They are privatizing seeds by creating new ones reaching all the standards to be included in the catalogue, and patent them. . They are controlling which seeds can be bought by farmers and, as a consequence, the number of varieties you can eat. So why don’t farmers use their proper seeds? Because they can do it only under some conditions: they had theses seeds for free and they use them only in their proper farm.
What is the impact of this? For farmers, as I said, there is a big lack of independence as they have to buy new seeds each year. And a lack of freedom as they cannot grow the vegetables and fruits they want, but only those written in the catalogue. For us, consumers, it means a lack of diversity in our food. Did you know that there’s purple potatoes? And white or green eggplants? We are missing a range of new flavours and colours in our plates. And we are loosing bits of our biodiversity.
It seems to be out of our control. It is not. In fact, amateurs (it means you and me and all your friends and family and everyone you know who is not a farmer) can plant these old forgotten varieties. You have the right to use these seeds, only if you have them for free or by doing a swap. Where you can find them? In every country of Europe some associations are created to help you to swap seeds or to ask freely for them. You can also find some seeds libraries in real libraries. They often go with advices on how to plant seeds adapted to the local environment. You can plant them again every year with your proper seeds, give some to your neighbours, family, friends… and it will help to save some varieties.
Isn’t it funny to cook purple mashed potatoes?
So if you want to add new colours, new flavours to your plate; if you are a bit bored of always cooking the same vegetables, if you want to help saving traditional seeds; you can plant. Don’t be afraid of the weird shape some of these varieties can have, give it a try!
by Amelys Erard
Title quote by Vandana Shiva