Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

World diet is concentrated on a few cereal grains

I normally focus on industrial and service businesses, but recently headlines on rising food prices have me looking into agricultural businesses. Here some statistics to ponder: the world’s top 4 crops — wheat, corn, rice and barley — weigh more than the next 26 crops combined.

1999_WorldRevNutrDiet_Cordain_Table1.jpg The world’s top 30 food crops (estimated edible dry matter) [following Cordain (1999) Table 1]

Our diet really is quite limited in scope, according to Cordain (1999):

The number of plant species which nourish humanity is remarkably limited. Most of the 195,000 species of flowering plants produce edible parts which could be utilized by man; however less than 0.1% or fewer than 300 species are used for food. Approximately 17 plant species provide 90% of mankind’s food supply, of which cereal grains supply far and away the greatest percentage ….

Eight cereal grains: wheat, maize, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye, and millet provide 56% of the food energy and 50% of the protein consumed on earth. Three cereals: wheat, maize and rice together comprise at least 75% of the world’s grain production. It is clear that humanity has become dependent upon cereal grains for the majority of its food supply. As Mangelsdorf has pointed out, ‘cereal grains literally stand between mankind and starvation’; …. [pp. 20-21]

Where are these cereal grains coming from? Here’s a summary developed by Wayne Roberts (whose article led me to Cordain):

Rank of counties in wheat production
  China 1
  U.S. 3
  Canada 5
  Ukraine 11
Rank of countries in corn production
  U.S. (sweet corn and maize) 1
  Mexico (maize) 4
  Canada (sweet corn) 13
  India (maize) 113
Rank of countries in rice production
  China 1
  Vietnam 5
  India 96
Source; Stats Can; Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

Roberts says that there are disincentives to farmers to switch to less popular crops:

The fact that barn-raised livestock consumes a lot of wheat and corn does not have to mean that buckwheat, millet, oats, sorghum, teff, rye, spelt, amaranth and chia, all more nutrient-rich and easier on the earth than the big three, get shunted to the back acre.

Nor does it have to mean the same for potatoes (not the ones bred for french fry and potato chip production, but sweet potatoes, cassava, yams and other root crops) that match grains for nutrients.

Once farmers learn to grow these less common grains and tubers, they can be harvested for the same or less cost than the Big Three. And since they’re not used to feed cattle or cars, these’s less non-human demand to make them pricey.

Low prices and high convenience served as the modern-day Trojan Horse that allowed major agribusiness firms to take cheap U.S.-grown foods global. But low prices can no longer attract enough crop to meet demand. The original design of the fat-of-the-land high meat, high carb, high sugar system, after all, was for a world of 3 billion people, not 6 billion soon heading to 9.

The basic infrastructure of monopolized and centralized trading companies, processors, fast food chains and supermarkets is still intact. So is widespread lack of awareness of alternative tastes and crop possibilities. [p. 16]

Cordain seems to advocate eating less cereal grain, (in favour of other plants).

From an evolutionary perspective, humanity’s adoption of agriculture, and hence cereal grain consumption, is a relatively recent phenomenon. … [This] event occurred in most parts of the world between 5,500 and 10,000 years ago. Cereal grains represent a biologically novel food for mankind, consequently there is considerable genetic discordance between this staple food, and the foods to which our species is genetically adapted.

Cereal grains lack a number of nutrients which are essential for human health and well-being; additionally they contain numerous vitamins and minerals with low biological availability. [….] Because primates and hominids evolved in the tropical forest,wherein dicotyledonous plants prevailed, the human physiology has virtually no evolutionary experience with monocotyledonous cereal grains, and hence very little adaptive response to a food group which now represents the staple food for many of the world’s peoples. [pp. 58-59]

Since human evolution isn’t going rapidly change the foods that we can digest, perhaps the balance of foods to be grown needs to be rethought.

References

Loren Cordain, “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword”, World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 1999, volume 84, pp. 19-73, accessed from thepaleodiet.com .

Wayne Roberts, “Slaves to the Sheaf”, Now Magazine, March 13-19, 2008, p. 16, also available at nowtoronto.com.

2 Comments

  • I agree with what you’re saying about growing and harvesting crops that aren’t non-human defendant, but wouldn’t you think it may be a bit hard to convince 300 million people to eat more cassava and sorghum. True, there is a population that eats those less popular grains and potatoes, but that only stems from what products that are on the counters. If we can find a way to convince big business to make more foods rich in these less popular grains, then in the long run we would be saving a bundle. By exporting more it would start elevation of our federal debt as well as keeping people healthy through thus foods.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • RSS qoto.org/@daviding (Mastodon)

    • daviding: Provocative statemen February 1, 2020
      Provocative statement by Canadian automobile reviewer. > There isn’t now and likely never will be enough electricity available worldwide to replace all the petroleum for the vehicles we currently drive.> And given that at least in Canada, only 11 per cent of fossil fuel emissions come from passenger vehicles (that’s not from some climate-change-denying website […]
    • daviding: Lecture on "Are Syst January 23, 2020
      Lecture on "Are Systems Changes Different from System + Change?" at #OCADU_SFI #SystemicDesign master's, web video and digital audio now at http://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/are-systems-changes-different-from-system-change/ . Lecture of 1h18m covered 37 of 55 slides, all online for #SystemsChange #SystemsThinking #theoryofchange
    • daviding: The 2019-2020 fires January 5, 2020
      The 2019-2020 fires in Australia are associated with a slow history of human activity. > Three hours north, in Sydney, the air quality was worse than in Jakarta. [....] > There is no doubt that the fires are growing more ferocious. Even without the changing climate, it would be inevitable; 250 years of land mismanagement […]
    • daviding: > ... a fascinating December 18, 2019
      > ... a fascinating study by Javier Miranda, principal economist at the U.S. Census Bureau; Benjamin Jones, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; and Pierre Azoulay, professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. They took a detailed look at the demographics […]
    • daviding: A week of deepening December 15, 2019
      A week of deepening *democratic recession* says @FareedZakaria https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/25/us/fareed-democracy-decaying-worldwide/index.html . Citing term by #LarryDiamond "Facing Up to the Democratic Recession" | Jan. 2015 | J Democracy at https://www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles/facing-up-to-the-democratic-recession/
  • RSS on IngBrief

    • Plans as resources for action (Suchman, 1988)
      Two ways of thinking about practice put (i) “plans as determinants of action”, and (ii) “plans as resources for action”. The latter has become a convention, particularly through research into Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW). While the more durable explanation appears the Suchman (1987) book (specifically section “8.2 Plans as […]
    • The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago
      Does “the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago and the second best time is now” date back further than 1988? It is time to look long and hard at the value of the urban forest and create the broad-based efforts — in research, funding and citizen participation — needed to improve […]
    • 2019/11/05 13:15 “Barriers to Data Science Adoption: Why Existing Frameworks Aren’t Working”, Workshop at CASCON-Evoke, Markham, Ontario
      Workshop led by @RohanAlexander and @prof_lyons at #CASCONxEvoke on "Barriers to Data Science Adoption: Why Existing Frameworks Aren't Working". For discussion purposes the challenges are grouped within three themes: regulatory; investment; and workforce.
    • Own opinion, but not facts
      “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts” by #DanielPatrickMoynihan is predated on @Freakonomics by #BernardMBaruch 1950 “Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts”. Source: “There Are Opinions, And Then There Are Facts” | Fred Shapiro […]
    • R programming is from S, influenced by APL
      History of data science tools has evolved to #rstats of the 1990s, from the S-Language at Bell Labs in the 1970s, and the
    • Bullshit, Politics, and the Democratic Power of Satire | Paul Babbitt | 2013
      Satire can be an antidote, says Prof. #PaulBabbitt @muleriders , to #bullshit (c.f. rhetoric; hypocrisy; crocodile tears; propaganda; intellectual dishonesty; politeness, etiquette and civility; commonsense and conventional wisdom; symbolic votes; platitudes and valence issues).
  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • RSS on daviding.com

    • 2020/01 Moments January 2020
      Back to school, teaching and learning at 2 universities.
    • 2019/12 Moments December 2019
      First half of December in finishing up course assignments and preparing for exams; second half on 11-day family vacation in Mexico City.
    • 2019/11 Moments November 2019
      Wrapped up paperwork on closing out family buildings in Gravenhurst, returned to classes and technical conferences in usual pattern of learning.
    • 2019/10 Moments October 2019
      Tightly scheduled weekdays at Ryerson Chang School, weekends in Gravenhurst clearing out family building as we're leaving the town permanently.
    • 2019/09 Moments September 2019
      Full month, winding down family business in Gravenhurst, starting Ryerson Chang certificate program in Big Data, with scheduled dinners with family and friends.
    • 2019/08 Moments August 2018
      Enjoyed summer with events in Toronto, followed by trips back my home town Gravenhurst, staying overnight for the first time in over 30 years.
  • RSS on Media Queue

  • Meta

  • Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
    Theme modified from DevDmBootstrap4 by Danny Machal