Banking on Wild Relatives to Feed the World | Maywa Montenegro

Abstract: Crop wild relatives, the progenitors and kin of domesticated crop species, promise breeders a potent weapon against climate change. Having evolved outside the pampered environs of farms, wild relatives tend to be more rugged to survive temperature, salt, floods, and drought—all the extremes characteristic of a warming planet. But who will benefit from re-wilded crops? What kinds of agricultural systems will they tend to support? And can wild relatives be protected before they are lost under pavement, desertification, and expanding industrial farms? In this essay, I explore different visions of conservation and use for crop wild relatives. With CWR valued at an estimated $115–120 billion to the global economy annually, many researchers suggest ancient germplasm can be harnessed to feed billions in a warming world. Others look more closely at ancient customs and farmer knowledge that have long promoted conservation of wild species within and around cultivated landscapes. By intentionally planting crops at field borders, farmers also perform “in vivo” breeding. I conclude that wild relatives hold much potential to reinfuse diversity into eroded crop gene pools, providing greater systemic resilience. But unless we consider who controls seeds, intellectual property, and wild and agricultural lands, CWR innovations will only prop up an agriculture that ultimately undercuts crop and wild relative renewal.


Not long ago, Native Seed Search, a Tucson-based organization dedicated to preserving indigenous crop varieties, was approached by representatives from Monsanto. Did Native Seed have any samples of teosinte they were willing to sell? The wild ancestor from which domesticated corn was bred, teosinte is scarcely recognizable as a kin of modern corn, the latter with its multiple rows of kernels, plump and sweet. Yet it is in the genes of this wild relative – and those of all the world’s major crop species – that modern plant breeders are eager to find a potent weapon against climate change.

Having evolved outside the pampered habitat of a farm, wild relatives are hardier than most domesticated species. Their traits, say researchers, could potentially be bred or engineered into crops to produce climate-hardy varieties. If you have not yet heard that “weeds will feed the world,” you soon will.

But who will benefit from such wild relative improvements? What kinds of agricultural systems will they go to support? And how to stanch the loss of wild relatives due to climate change, urbanization, deforestation, pollution – and industrialized agriculture itself?

With such questions still waiting to be satisfyingly addressed, much wild relative work is already underway. Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture are looking to red rice, a weedy relative of domesticated rice (genus Oryza), for genes that could make commercially grown varieties more heat-resistant, adapted to saltier soils, and higher yielding even under the driest conditions (Palmer 2014). Other USDA researchers are crossing the countryside in search of wild relatives of sunflower (Helianthus), one of the few domesticated plants native to North America (Harvey 2015). Similar research at CIMMYT in Mexico, the cradle of Green Revolution research, focuses on relatives of wheat (Triticum), with advances in drought- and heat-resistant traits already resulting in edible grain.

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An Interview with James C. Scott | Harry G. West and Celia Plender

from Gastronomica 15:3

SOAS FOOD STUDIES CENTRE DISTINGUISHED LECTURE

On December 11, 2014, James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology and founding director of the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University, gave a Distinguished Lecture in the Food Studies Centre at SOAS, University of London (co-organized by the Agrarian Change and Development Research Cluster at SOAS). Lectures in this series are co-sponsored by Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies. On the following day, Scott answered questions put to him by Harry G. West, Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Food Studies Centre; Celia Plender, doctoral student in anthropology; and other SOAS students.

For decades, Scott has been a key figure in Southeast Asian Studies and in the comparative study of agrarian societies and peasant politics. His best-known works examine the state, hegemony, revolution, resistance, and anarchism, and include The Moral Economy of the Peasant (Yale University Press, 1976), Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (Yale University Press, 1980), Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (Yale University Press, 1998), and The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2008).

james_scott_featured
Photograph courtesy of James C. Scott

In this session, Scott reflects on his intellectual precursors and his place in the landscape of academic disciplines; the significance of food and agriculture in his work; the tenuous future of peasant agriculture and agrarian societies; globalization and the rise of corporate agriculture and the food industries; poverty and the struggle for justice; and his own experiences with farming and farm land conservation.

PANEL:

JAMES C. SCOTT [JS]

HARRY G. WEST [HW]

CELIA PLENDER [CP]



HW:

Jim, what drew you to “agrarian studies”—specifically with a focus on the peasantry and its relationship with the state—and what drew you to Southeast Asia? Is there a backstory that you can share with us that gives us a sense of this emergent intellectual agenda?

JS:

I stumbled into Southeast Asia. I had bungled my honors thesis as an undergraduate, my professor dismissed me, and if I wanted an honors degree, I had to find someone who would adopt me. I was an economics major and someone said, well, I think I’d like to understand more about the economic development of Burma and if you do this I will adopt you as an honors student. And I said fine, and then when I closed the door behind his office I said to myself, where’s Burma? I got a Rotary Fellowship to go to Burma and one thing led to another and I became a Southeast Asianist. As far as agrarian studies is concerned, that’s actually a simpler story and maybe typical of my generation. I started to teach as a Southeast Asianist during the middle of the Vietnam War and the expansion of the Vietnam War at the University of Wisconsin. The university had a long progressive tradition, which was one reason why I took a job there. The fall of 1967 when I arrived to begin teaching there were the so-called “Dow Riots” protesting the war and the manufacture and use of napalm ordnance by Dow as well as the contract research for the Department of Defense conducted on campus. These riots convulsed the campus and coincided with a strike by teaching assistants to secure unionization rights. The police responded badly and a good many students were beaten and arrested. The turmoil led to a series of all-faculty meetings in which I took an active part, speaking against the war and for the rights of the protestors. As a budding Southeast Asianist I spent a good deal of the following two years speaking against the war in Wisconsin and elsewhere. I became interested in peasant rebellion—understanding the Viet Cong and how peasant rebellions happened. I taught a course on peasant rebellion with a China specialist friend, Edward Friedman, and in those days we had 400, 500 students in the class who were fighting for the microphone to denounce us as insufficiently progressive. Finally I decided that since peasants were the largest segment of the world’s population, it would be an honorable and worthy career to devote my life to the study of peasants and agriculture. So when I finally went to Yale, we began something called the Program in Agrarian Studies and it brought together all those people who were interested in rural life generally: land tenure, agriculture, now food and environment. For me it was a wonderful interdisciplinary community in which I learned a tremendous amount. I think of the book Seeing Like a State as the book that agrarian studies helped me write, just by attending all of the seminars that we had—including ones which Harry presented.

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Spring 2015, Volume 15, Number 1

Spring 2015, Volume 15, Number 1

FROM THE EDITOR
Editor’s Letter | Melissa L. Caldwell

2014 SOAS DISTINGUISHED LECTURE
Jerusalem on a Plate: Identity, Tradition, and Ownership | Yotam Ottolenghi

RESEARCH ESSAYS
Taste-Based Medicine | India Mandelkern

Pomegranate and the Mediation of Balance in Early Medicine | A.R. Ruis

Cultural Indigestion in Multicultural Australia: Fear of “Foreign” Foods in Australian Media | Lara Anderson and Heather Merle Benbow

How Not to Write About Africa: African Cuisines in Food Writing | Naa Baako Ako-Adjei

VISUAL ESSAY
Hard Labor in the Organic Potato Field | David Bacon

CREATIVE REFLECTIONS
The Thorniest Catch | John Grossmann

The Men Who Planted Trees: How the Truffle Saved Provence | Zachary Nowak

Madame Mushroom | Grace M. Cho

Picking Tomatoes at Midnight | Rebecca Dimyan

Shoot First, Make Breakfast Later | Jeff DeBellis

REVIEW ESSAY
Distinction and Dining | Gary Alan Fine

REVIEWS
San Francisco: A Food Biography By Erica J. Peters, Reviewed by Sarah Bakker Kellogg

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing By Anya von Bremzen, Reviewed by Anton Masterovoy

Rice Talks: Food and Community in a Vietnamese Town By Nir Avieli, Reviewed by Sarah G. Grant

The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India By Sarah Besky, Reviewed by Alexandra Hatzakis

Semiotics of Drink and Drinking By Paul Manning, Reviewed by Sierra Burnett Clark

Food and the Self: Consumption, Production and Material Culture By Isabelle de Solier, Reviewed by Kelila Jaffe

Food, Farms, and Solidarity: French Farmers Challenge Industrial Agriculture and Genetically Modified Crops By Chaia Heller, Reviewed by Hélène B. Ducros

Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy By Anne Meis Knupfer, Reviewed by Alison Hope Alkon

The Industrial Diet: The Degradation of Food and the Struggle for Healthy Eating By Anthony Winson, Reviewed by Robert Paarlberg

BOOKS RECEIVED

Resistance Is Fertile! | Anne Meneley

from Gastronomica 14:4

The practices of everyday commensality—producing, provisioning, and consuming food and drink in the West Bank of Palestine—are radically affected by the Israeli occupation. I discuss two very different Palestinian initiatives that envision production and consumption of food and drink as a nonviolent means of resisting the occupation: a craft beer called Taybeh brewed in the predominantly Christian Taybeh village close to Ramallah, and a local agriculture movement based in the Ramallah district known as Sharaka (“partnership” in Arabic). Theories of resistance in anthropology, from James Scott’s (1985) conception of resistance tactics as “weapons of the weak” to Lila Abu-Lughod’s (1990) idea of resistance as a “diagnostic of power,” still resonate in Palestine as the Palestinians are so clearly in a position of gross inequality in relation to their Israeli occupiers, whose power is hardly disguised enough to need a diagnostic. I have found Julia Elyachar’s discussion of how agency is embedded in infrastructure and infrastructure is implicated in resistance activities insightful. This is particularly salient given the peculiar status of infrastructure in the West Bank where, instead of facilitating connectivity, infrastructure is designed to impede and exclude flows—in this case, commodities of sustenance (Elyachar 2014: 460). I am primarily concerned with both Christian and Muslim Palestinians in the West Bank; while I did not have the opportunity to travel to Gaza, conditions in Gaza, including the shocking 2014 Israeli military offensive, affect political sentiments and actions in the West Bank, including resistance practices involving food, a topic I will return to briefly in the postscript of this article.

Local food and drink production and consumption have become sites of “agro-resistance.” Vivien Sansour, a journalist and activist, describes 78-year-old Abu Adnan as one of Palestine’s farmer revolutionaries, who “understand on an experiential level that healing for us as a community suffering from oppression and occupation requires the restoration of our sense of self—a self that is defiant but not defined by its oppressor” (Sansour 2010: 2). Dinaa Hadid cites a Palestinian farmer who, like Abu Adnan, envisions agricultural practice itself as a fertile resistance: “‘I don’t throw rocks,’ says farmer Khader, referring to young men who frequently hurl stones during demonstrations. He pointed to his rock-built terraces. ‘I use them to build our future’” (Hadid 2012: 3). I borrow my title from that of a recent article published in Al-Jazeera, “Resistance Is Fertile: Palestine’s Eco-War” (Brownsell 2011), itself a spinoff from the classic line by the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Resistance is futile.” Describing Palestinian “guerilla gardeners of the occupied West Bank,” the author quotes Baha Hilo, then of the Joint Advocacy Initiative, responsible for planting olive trees on land that is in danger of being confiscated: “We’re not a militia, our weapons are our pickaxes and shovels, our hands and our olive trees” (ibid.: 3). Baha Hilo was my guide during my five years as an intermittent “guerilla gardener” myself, as we picked olives on Palestinian land threatened by Israeli military or settlers. Here, I examine how guerrilla gardeners are part of contemporary Palestine agricultural movements and, moreover, are deployed as a new form of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation.

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Seven Bald Men and a Kumquat Tree: Rob Connoley, Silver City’s Non-Native Son | Amy Gentry

from Gastronomica 13:3

I have never seen a restaurant kitchen quite like this. The Kenmore oven/stove combo with its electric range is the same make and model as mine at home, but of an older vintage. Something that looks like a thirty-year-old camping grill sits on the counter next to the stove. Mason jars filled with rustred hackberries, bumpy green cholla fruit, and twigs with the leaves still attached litter the shelves and countertops. On top of one sits a piece of spongy grayish-green moss.

“What’s that?” I ask. Rob Connoley, skinny and tall, with a shaven head and lashless blue eyes that blink red in the smoky kitchen, picks it up.

“Oh, just something I found in the woods. I’m going to take it to Naava.” That’s Naava Konigsberg, local herbalist, whom Rob consults for information about the various plants he forages, before taking them to the biology lab at Western New Mexico University for further analysis. “I’ll ask them, is it edible? Sustainable? Are there toxic levels of pollutants?” He puts the moss back down. “Don’t worry, I also try it myself first. If I die, I won’t serve it.”

Rob keeps up the steady stream of chatter while he drops a squiggle of pale green watercress puree on four plates, crosses it with a bright saffron-yellow streak, and plants a white ball on one end that looks like fresh mozzarella (it is actually a curd made from sweet corn shoots). At the other end of the plate, trapezoidal hunks of acorn bread lean drunkenly against one another like the ruins of a small city. He plops a couple of elderflower boba—glistening, translucent balls resembling oversized golden whitefish caviar—onto a small heap of greens and moves to the next plate.

In December of 2012, Rob’s restaurant, the Curious Kumquat, was named #39 in Saveur Magazine‘s Top 100 destination restaurants. To understand how truly unlikely this ranking is, you should know that he has a PhD in sports psychology but no culinary degree and no restaurant experience at all outside of the one he opened in 2008; that he works almost completely alone, prepping, firing, and plating all the courses and washing his own dishes by hand at the end of the night; and that the Curious Kumquat is located in a mountain town with a population of 10,000 four hours from the closest commercial airport.

ABOVE: Cholla fruit. Photograph by Amy Gentry © 2013

Despite all this, the restaurant regularly draws a crowd increasingly made up of food tourists from New York, Chicago, and LA. Between Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day, it’s been a stressful week. “We served seventy tables for dinner last night,” he says. “That’s the biggest dinner we’ve ever done, and it’s not even tourist season yet.” He pauses and rubs his head. “I’m exhausted, and I still haven’t done the courses for tomorrow night.” Tomorrow, the restaurant is closed for one of the experimental tasting dinners Rob throws every few months. This time he’s planning ten savory courses based around chocolate, presumably in honor of Valentine’s Day. With forty reservations, the dinner is sold out.

ABOVE: Moss and other ingredients in Rob’s kitchen. Photograph by Amy Gentry © 2013

“You mean you haven’t prepped them?”

“I mean I haven’t invented them.”

Leah, the single server working the floor, pokes her head in to tell Rob that the five-top she just seated wants to be out in an hour. “They’re watching the game.”

“The game?” Rob says incredulously.

She nods. “And they want the tasting menu.”

Rob shakes his head. “Seven courses in one hour, so they can watch the game,” he says. “Unbelievable.”

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