Voices for Biodiversity

Food, Culture and Conservation

 

Everywhere there is a crisis of food. This may be hard to believe as we walk through the super-market aisle, surrounded by tens of thousands of boxes and packages and bottles, each sporting the unique logos of processed foods. But most of what we find in the supermarket is not "food" but instead a poor-quality substitute subject to the vagaries of the fuel, fertilizer and pesticide markets. The food system we rely on is fragile and unsustainable, and we're never far from hunger, whether we like to admit it or not. Denial won't make the crisis disappear.

Archeology captured my heart when I was a child, but it took years of digging and walking in muddy, dusty, hot, cold, boring, thrilling conditions before I realized that two of my greatest loves — food and culture — were inexorably linked. As I worked my way around the southwestern United States, Peru, France, Israel and Egypt, I became fascinated by the ways in which human beings attempted to plant a permanent root in the ground via food culture. In some cases, this involved moving water over miles of dry earth to turn desert ground to garden. In others, it meant draining lakes and rivers just to find a place to plant. The most amazing techniques — from terracing to rock gardening to detailed species selection — were employed to meet the goal of sustaining and growing a population. This creativity of the human spirit is as true for cultures more dependent on the bounty of forest and sea than on the field.

One of the things you start to realize, however, is that despite these amazing food creation methods, more than 90 percent of all cultures that ever existed did, in the end, fail.

The experience of archaeology drove a fascination with the modern ways in which we develop our food cultures and how we might find some sort of long-term sustainability for our food production methods. The practice of permaculture offers countless solutions to our modern challenges, and I have been able to offer my know-how to communities from New Mexico to Haiti to India in the hopes that we can find a way to alleviate the crisis.

I mentioned the nexus of food and beauty. These photographs are part of my ever-growing gallery of that meeting point.

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Writer, Photographer

Jim O’Donnell
Writer, Photographer

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