Seeds are sex. Seeds are food. Seeds are meat, clothes and fuel. Seeds are the promise of future life. And seeds are becoming a monopoly. According to the journalist Simran Sethi, that’s a cause for great concern.
“The food and agriculture organization of the United Nations says that 75% of crop varieties have disappeared since 1900,” she warns in her TEDxManhattan talk, “Seeds: The Buried Beginnings of Food.” Sethi further elaborates just how little of the world’s seeds we’re taking advantage of, noting that 95% of the world’s calories come from just 30 species—a very narrow segment of the some 80,000 edible plant varieties.
And with genetic diversity narrowing, genetic patenting turning seeds into “non-renewable resources” for farmers, and just three corporations controlling over half of the global seed market, the legacy of 10,000 years of domesticated agriculture is at risk.
So yes, as Sethi sees it, now you need to worry about seeds too. But worrying about seeds proves just to be a different shade of worrying about food—buying from small farmers who don’t grow transgene or hybrid plant varieties is worrying about seeds; eating heirloom tomatoes is worrying about seeds; growing your own food is worrying about seeds.
The very literal questions she asks—“What seeds are we planting? And how do we nourish the seeds that we want to grow?”—can so easily turn metaphoric, less practical questions about what’s for dinner than a mediation on the idea of seeds being the story and symbol of our humanity. Which is part of the fun of worrying about seeds.
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Willy Blackmore is the food editor at TakePart. He has also written about food, art, and agriculture for such publications as TastingTable, Los Angeles Magazine, The Awl, GOOD, LA Weekly, The New Inquiry, and BlackBook. Email Willy | TakePart.com