Food brings us together.
Lately, Trumpian tirades against immigration and open borders have flooded the political landscape. But a new, comprehensive report on the interconnectivity of our global food supply offers an antidote.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to calculate the links between national diets and agricultural economies. It paints a picture of mutual reliance. Examining 151 crops and 177 countries, the researchers found that in an average country, nearly 70 percent of vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruit originate elsewhere.
“When you think about our deepest and most longstanding relationships, they’re to our domesticated species and food crops,” says Colin Khoury, a researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture, and the lead author on the report. But increasingly, the lines between country of crop origin and country of consumption have dissolved.
It was only around 100 years ago, Khoury says, that advances in archaeology, linguistics, and botany introduced scientists to the possibility of identifying the geographic origins of what we consume. Since then, the data have become more granular.
The visualization of how crops crisscross the globe is especially striking. (Check out the interactive here.) Khoury’s team traced crops back to one of 23 primary regions of diversity throughout the globe. The difference between region of origin and region of diversity, Khoury says, is significant here: the place a crop first appeared is not synonymous with where it was first farmed, domesticated, and diversified. The regions that contain the greatest variation in a particular crop also have the greatest output.
Take, for example, Central America. It’s the primary region of diversity for maize, which is consumed in large quantities in Southern Africa. The line linking the two countries in the visualization above represents that connection, which the study quantifies as 707.6 kcal of maize per capita per day.
That one strand is lost, however, amid the explosion of linkages in the second circle. The diagram is deliberately overwhelming, Khoury says, as a testament to how globalization has fully encapsulated the systems of food supply.
“We rely on crop variation to account for nutrition needs and to deal with changing climates,” Khoury says. One primary takeaway, Khoury says, “is that we all need each other.”
But also, that we’re already relying on each other, perhaps more than certain politicians would be comfortable admitting. Consider, in closing, this tweet: