Where Did All the Wild Things Go?
I’m writing this from a breakfast bar in Lima, Peru where I just devoured this plate of awesomeness: chia, kiwicha, and quinoa seeds atop melons, two kinds of local prickly pear cactus fruit and the perfectly named “tumbo,” or banana passion fruit.
Munching on this stuff, I think to myself how crazy it is that so little of the biodiversity on the planet makes it into mainstream consumption. Only in the last five years has the West seen, in frozen food aisles, beloved Amazonian fruits like açaí and pitaya. Our palates have been trained to eat the same old stuff, year after year. Even local foods in the US, like the antioxidant-packed muscadine grape (aka scuppernong), whose vines creep over many parts of the Southeastern US, don’t get widespread distribution.
Here in Lima, people come to the central city market with over 3,000 varieties of potato.
While we build enormous supply chains around monocropped cash cows like soy, corn, and wheat, much of the world’s plant biodiversity is vanishing. I’m reading James Nestor’s incredible book Deep, about the world of competitive freediving and deep ocean exploration, and it reminds me that we know so little about the planet we’re destroying. In the last sixty years, 40% of known phytoplankton (microscopic ocean plants responsible for a large chunk of CO2 absorption) species have disappeared.
FORTY PERCENT! And those are only the species we know to measure. Scientists estimate there are 30 million deep ocean species we have yet to identify. What wonders might we be missing? What secrets of our own origins and future are buried in the rapidly deteriorating and unexplored wild places of the world?
Years ago, James Speth’s that the Edge of the World transformed my understanding of the environmental crisis. Speth’s book starts with a series of graphs charting the decline of virtually every earthly resource alongside growth of global population and incomes:
While I’m generally an optimist about humanitarian concerns like poverty, peeling back the numbers on environmental degradation — especially of wild lands — is depressing.
Is there any way to curb consumerism’s insatiable demand for more, cheaper, better stuff?
What can you do personally?
- Buy fewer, better things that last longer, and buy them from companies that share your values. Look for certified B Corporations, and try to buy fair trade and organic ingredients whenever possible.
- Donate to the best environmental nonprofits. If you can’t donate, follow them on social media and share their content. The Environmental Working Group, Environmental Defense Fund, Grist, Mission Blue, Sea Shepherd, and 350.org are some of my favorites.
- Eat as many vegan meals as you can. Factory farming is f*cking up the planet. One day future generations will regard industrial meat, dairy, and egg production the same way we now think of the slave trade. It’s ok if you’re not perfect — even switching to an 80% plant-based diet is better than doing nothing.
- Go spend time in nature. New studies show that immersion in natural environments is good for your brain. Not that we needed those. And on a daily basis: stick your toes in the dirt outside your office building, run your hands along the bark of the tree in your yard, look up into the darkness of the night sky and get a taste of your own smallness in relation to the trillions of organisms with whom we share our universe.
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