A Thought Experiment: Due to a combination of crises - maybe a volcano explosion, the penetration of Ug99 into the main of the world wheat crop, drought in many of the world's grain growing regions, zombie invasion etc... (it doesn't really matter), the Global North experiences a catastrophic failure of its staple crops. All of a sudden grain supplies drop like a stone, and there are virtually none to be had in the market. No bread, no rice, no soybeans or corn - none of those products are available in the markets.
At first, there is panic. The government institutes a ban on the feeding of anything but grass and hay to livestock, necessitating a massive butchering of most national stock, which raises cholesterol levels but keeps people from starving initially. After this, however, little meat is available as well.
Then we begin a rapid inventory of what crops survived, and what foods are available to feed the hungry. For caloric density, there is little that can match grains, but we do what we can. The national potato crop was poor, but what there is of that provides some familiar food. But it was a banner year for the American beet-growers, and rather than converting them as is often the case, to sugar, they are sent to market whole to feed the hungry. Similarly, sweet sorghum survived fairly well, and rather than being pressed into syrup, is sent out to market. Nations of the Global South, responding to a worldwide crisis commit some of their taro and cassava crop to feed the hungry. Many farmers when the rain finally came, planted turnips and buckwheat, and a modest harvest comes out of the US Midwest. And of course, US nut growers, aware theirs is the most protein dense crop available commit their harvest (at stunning prices) to the cause. Meanwhile corps of poor Americans are set to harvesting urban and rural oak trees for acorn meal. We learn that there is enough food to go around and prevent starvation, even if it is unfamiliar.
Now imagine yourself, an ordinary shopper at the market, setting out to make dinner. Here is a whole cassava root, with leaves attached. Government propaganda has told you that the root is filling and starchy, but low in protein, but that this can be made up for by processing the leaves to remove the cyanide and then eating those - remember, they are perfectly safe, but you don't want to get a paralytic neurological disease by inadequate processing. Here is an enormous pile of beets, ready to be eaten in breakfast bakes, luncheon salads and dinner entrees. Here is ground chestnut meal, to be mixed with sorghum and made into flatbreads. Remember, there's plenty of food - you just have to cook and eat it.
I do not anticipate this particular scenario happening any time soon, but I do think it is a useful illustration of the degree to which we depend not only on food, but on the familiarity of our food. In this case, with much muttering and unhappiness, some appetite fatigue and malnutrition, we probably would begin getting comfortable with acorn pancakes and turnip stew with taro dumplings. This would be extremely difficult however - remember only a tiny percentage of Americans would actually even know what to do with the foods that they do eat all the time - confronted with a bowl of wheat berries or whole corn, or a soybean in its natural state, most Americans (and I suspect most people in much of the developed world) would see not "food" but something else. Wheat comes in the form of bread, or maybe, for some, flour, corn in the form, at best, of cornmeal or tortillas, and more often in processed foods. Soybeans are conveniently made into tofu or soyburgers.
But now let's envision the scenario slightly differently, rather, say, like the actual present. Nothing happened to the world's wheat crop, other than an increasingly large number of people who want to eat it. Nothing happened to the corn or soybean crop that isn't happening every day. Nothing happened (thank G-d) to the rice crops on which almost half the world subsists.
And yet we notice that even though nothing in particular happened, most of those foods are grown destructively. Something *is* happening, something disastrous. The wheat is being grown often on dry prairie soils that should never be plowed at all. The corn and soybeans are being grown continuously in the midwest at a high cost to both topsoil and the ability of soils to hold carbon. And someone said "ok, we need to eat foods that don't grow like this. So, what can we grow without destroying the planet?"
Well let's say that what they came up with was much the same menu - the tastier white acorns, chestnuts, hazels and pecans to replace oil and protein crops, roots like beets, cassava, taro, sweet potatoes, potatoes and turnips that are easily grown either perennially or in combination with perennial agriculture in "vegeculture". Obscure grains suited to particular conditions - amaranth and old varieties of corn in hot dry climates, buckwheat in short summer climates, quinoa in high places, so that folks in Denver have quinoa and barley, while in Pheonix, amaranth and corn and in my neighborhood, you can have all the oats and buckwheat you want.
What do you think the odds are of Americans, or Europeans voluntarily shifting their diets? Imagine the new ad campaigns "Now, with more cassava!" Health food claims could probably do some - remember oat bran? If you can get Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse to do acorns, who knows...the sky is the limit?
However, it won't happen fast. Food cultures can and do change dramatically - when I was 10, I went out for sushi for the first time with my father - at the time there were two Japanese restaurants in Boston, and not a single person I knew, including my extremely adventurous Dad, had ever eaten it. I did it rather on a bet, and was accounted a huge radical eating raw fish in 1982. Now my local supermarket sells sushi, and everyone eats it. But the transition from "bait" to "universal" took at least 20 years from the first introduction of the concept in the US. It is hard to imagine now that there were times when literally it was impossible to get basil or broccoli in the US - nobody grew them outside a few ethnic gardeners. In every case, the addition of new crops and new culinary ideas to our repetoir took time,
Dietary shifts usually involve addition, rather than replacement, at least in the shorter time scales. For example, Americans are eating a lot more tofu than they used to. Back in the 1970s, when my mother and step-mother were experimenting with healthy foods, there were a lot of recipes for tofu loaves (and probably more was done to bring tofu into the mainstream culture by the death of the tofu loaf than anything else) but the idea was that tofu would substitute for meat. Well, for some portion of people it did - but meat consumption also rose, until we were actually eating more meat along with our tofu, than ever before. While jello for jello salad may have peaked back in the 1950s, a surprising number of jello salads grace tables across the country - tables that also may have sliced tomatoes and basil with mozzarella now, or marinated broccoli salad. That is, we've not replaced the jello but added on to it.
Why is all of this so important? Well, it comes down the question of why I include "eat the food" as one of the projects in my "Independence Days" project. It seems like so minor a thing - "Of course we're eating the food, we're growing it, right?" But I think all of us have yet to fully grasp the magnitude of the food question from a eater's perspective.
Right now, the vast majority of our calories are coming from grain production, mostly not very sustainable grain production - and this is true of most of the people who are most concerned with food issues, as well as those who are not. Those of us most aware of the issue may be at least buying our grains direct from sustainable farmers - this is excellent. A few people are eating mostly what is available in their regions. All of us are eating more out of our gardens. But it remains the fact that only 5% of US cropland is growing vegetables, nuts and unusual small grains - the vast majority of our agricultural land is growing either meat, dairy, grains or soybeans.
Even the most committed people I know are (and here I cannot fully except even myself) eating a lot of things that don't really grow all that sustainably in our regions because we like them, because our families are accustomed to them, because we feel culturally that a meal without bread or rice or tortillas is not a meal. Because we have picky eaters in our family. Because we have no idea what to do with a big pile of acorn meal or a cassava root, and no real desire to learn - or if we do want to learn, no quick easy way to overcome the cultural weight of it not being "our" food. Food is not merely food, it is culture, it is our identity in some ways - we think of ourselves, implicitly, as being part of a community of eaters, and if our community does not eat what we eat, our relationship to it is destabilized, dubious, stressful. Moreover, when times get difficult, we tend to crave familiarity, rather than complexity - we least want to try and eat new things when we are in crisis.
The ways our diets must begin to shift is something I think that most people, even those most aware of the issue, have not begun to struggle with. It is an issue for backyard chicken raisers who are rightly proud that they are raising eggs and meat in their yards - and who also are raising them almost entirely on purchased bagged feed. It is an issue for permaculturists, enthusiastically replacing their yards with forest gardens, who have no idea what they are going to do with groundnuts and jerusalem artichokes, so who mostly do nothing with them. It is an issue for growers like me, who very much want to grow local staple crops for market - but who simply can't make a living growing potatoes, beets and turnips, because people don't eat those things in quantities sufficient, or pay enough for them. It is an issue for me, because my family loves rice and bread, but does not grow much wheat or any rice. It is not that we must eat wholly as we intend to eat, but it does matter that we begin the dietary and agricultural shift we inevitably face ahead of time.
Most of our gardens bring in our greens and our flavoring crops, our berries, salsas, jams and our other things that make life pleasant. Most of us are not growing our staple foods. My family is in some measure - we grow hundreds of pounds of potatoes, sweet potatoes and other root crops each year (or at least in years without floods). But we still haven't fully dealt with our grain habit.
Tillage and the growing of high-demand crops year after year are major players in climate change and in the close ties between oil and food prices. Energy intensive, high cost no-till cannot be an answer in an era of resource depletion - but neither can farmers tell consumers what they should eat, even if they believe in it. A fundamental change towards a more perennial and sustainable diet depends upon what we choose to eat.
Vegeculture, which integrates root (often perennial root) agriculture with perennial tree crops is one of the better options for reducing tillage and energy consumption, as is permnent grass-pasturing of a more limited number of animals, and sustainable and *appropriate* cultivation of grains - eventually perhaps perennial grains. But to do this, we must eat these things.
High protein nut crops, including acorns, are probably the densest vegetarian source of calories, proteins and fats available to us. They are also a minute portion of our diet. Animals can be fed on both nut mast and on root crops - mangels and turnips kept animals alive through the winter in Europe, and chestnuts were the "Tree grain" of the US East, while acorns were central to the food culture in much of the American West, but people do not eat these crops on any scale - we need not "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" once a year, but large scale consumption.
Grains are going to be regionalized - irrigated grain production simply will not be happening in many parts of the country. Growing rice in California is obviously an act of first-level stupidity, but in the dryer parts of the American prairie, grain production may cease altogether due to climate change according to many projections. Southwesterners may be able to get along with dryland corns and amaranths that evolved for the desert, plus mesquite flours and other crops - although the heating and drying of that region may make even that hard.
All of this will require a massive cultural shift in people's palates and food cultures - and it is hugely important work. There are two ways this can happen - we can find ourselves in crisis, eating what we do know and probably do not like. The cost of this for ordinary people is grumbling and unhappiness. For children, the medically fragile and the elderly, it is appetite fatigue, which can cause them to stop eating, and suffer malnutrition, illness or occasionally even death. The price for farmers - and the people who rely on them (ie, all of us) is the danger of an abrupt shift into crops that are unfamiliar, and the possibility of poor harvests when they are most needed.
Or, we can start the work now - we can learn to eat the food that grows well in our place and does the least harm. That means pushing our comfort levels back a good bit, and beginning to replace the grains in our diet with other foods, even if it is hard, even if we think we can't like them, or we can't do it. It means contenting ourselves with the seasonality of some crops - not just no tomatoes in February, but less milk and fewer eggs as well.
It means that if we are growing forest gardens full of figs and hazelnuts, they are not merely a snack, but a supplement to our diet, and we eat figs and hazelnuts, jerusalem artichokes and groundnuts. It means pushing our gardens a little more towards the foods we should be eating - and then actually eating them. Not that it isn't valuable to make your own hot sauce - hot sauce counts. But then comes the process of learning to put it into a salsa served with homegrown beet chips, or on those chestnut pancakes. It is in this homely way that we begin to save the world.
Harsh words, Sharon, but someone still wrestling with viewing processed breads as the ultimate comfort food.
My garden is chronically pressed for room. Going "up" or increasing densisty only increases the need for water and nutrients in unsustainable ways. So staples get squeezed out. Why devote half my garden to getting a few pounds of dry beans when I can buy them for 88 cents a pound? It's a dilemma that I think many backyard gardeners deal with. So while I produce ample calories, they aren't the right mix of calories for a healthy diet. Finding a way to integrate high calorie storage crops like winter squash and sweet potatoes into limited space is an ongoing challenge I have yet to master.
Perennial root crops don't grow in most places in the US, limiting the use of vegeculture except in the warmest areas. This is an area where increased research and experimentation would be benefecial.
Am I the only one who finds this a delicious idea? Maybe it's the autism. You should have the kids at your autism meeting taste-test some recipes with these new foods.
I agree with all you say here, Sharon, especially about it being very hard to change one's diet fundamentally, even when there are hugely important reasons to do so. We try to substitute potatoes for a lot of the grain in our diet when we have potatoes around that we've grown ourselves. To a certain extent it's easy: hashbrowns or rosti potatoes at breakfast instead of toast, colcannon for dinner, or pasta/gnocchi/spaetzle made with half potato, half wheat flour. But it's very, very hard to let go of the familiar, as you say.
I've been eyeing our potatoes, turnips, beets, burdock and parsnips and really asking myself how I'm going to incorporate all of them into our diet this winter, so that nothing goes to waste and we rely less on those grains. I would love to see a collection of recipes that make it desirable to serve and eat these crops night after night through the dark winter months. I mean, we all know how to boil, mash, roast, and puree these roots. But it's all so tempting to pass over another round of the same-old, same-old roots once you've been eating them for several weeks strait. We probably all know one or two recipes that transform these into something with a little flair without requiring hours of kitchen work. Maybe a collaborative recipe collection?
"Growing rice in California is obviously an act of first-level stupidity . . ."
THANK YOU for mentioning this. It's one of the main arguments I have with friends who, with the best of intentions, buy Ca organic rice and think that it's sustainable (and at least a bit more local).
Also, thank you for naming the "elephant in the room"--that even when we begin to grow food, which is a terribly important step, we're only one step down the road we need to travel. That "food" tends to mean only "fruits and vegetables" rather than main calorie crops.
That said, these fruits and vegetables are definitely the best first step, since they're the ones that take the most energy for shipping and maintaining between farm and market . . .
So...give me some recipes. Or links to recipes. Or resources to buy some of these wondrous alternatives.
I am an Orthodox Christian who vegan fasts twice a week and four times a year (usually 40-day periods). I also love food and I love to cook. I live in the Midwest and I am constantly looking for new, sustainable, local food (besides what little I can grow in my current circumstances) that not only steward the land and the farmer, but also engage the eater on a spiritual level. Like the whole "Veganomicon CookBook", I want to foster a cuisine, not a "get-through-this-time-of-deprivation"!
And isn't that what you're really talking about? Shifting our cuisines by eating locally and sustainably by creating a new American Regional Cuisine? Adding local seasonings (incorporating world tastes where possible) to forestall diet fatigue...so we like our food, are nourished, body and soul, by our food, and enjoy mealtimes as community times, rather than just "get through hard times" with our foods, looking for a day we can go back to buying Twinkies and Wonder Bread?
mangels and turnips kept animals alive through the winter in Europe
I smiled when I read this, because not only do I have a picky eater at home in my husband, my chooks wouldn't eat many of the items I put out for them -- they actually *preferred* the bagged food that I wanted to use as a supplement, not a replacement. I wish chickens could read your writing. ;)
Thought provoking. What is most important is growing food that is suitable to your climate, and eating food grown within a hundred miles of your residence. Lot of the food mentioned in article would not grow in our northern climate. But I do agree it is difficult to change one's diet even when it is necessary to do.
Sharon, I can't agree with you more about the need to learn how to eat! Being gardeners, we get to try new things that are unfamiliar to the supermarket crowd. But preparing fresh produce is not the same as buying a can of green beans. Eating well your garden produce is an art in itself, involving timing, preservation, and preparation. To really ween ourselves from the unsustainable industrial food system we not only need to eat our vegetables, but also need to grow our own staple crops. I've begun playing with both dry beans and amaranth as candidates for home production of staple crops. Neither are grass-like grains, but both are high in protein and lend themselves to simple hand processing. Here is a discussion of my trial with amaranth last year: http://squashpractice.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/the-grand-amaranth-exper…
Hehe....guilty as charged. Haven't even touched the bumper crop of mashua tubers or the jerusalem artichokes this year, and there is two years worth of hazelnuts waiting for me to get around to cracking them. I've yet to come up with a tasty recipe for mashua though, other than boiling them. Everything else I've tried has just been nasty :P
Mind you with the year of earthquakes we've suffered through it has been a time of badly needed comfort food.
My wife uses Jeavons as her primary gardening guide. But she doesn't like a lot of what he suggests (turnips, parsnips) so we plant what we'll actually eat. We sacrafice some "efficiency" of producing the most calories in the smallest space. But we eat everything we grow. Right now we still buy and eat grain products such as flour and porridge. And we'll continue to do so as long as it's available for purchase, either in the store or from one of the many organic farms in East Jefferson County, Washington. After that we'll probably grow grain as sharecroppers on other people's land currently in grass hay. We _really_ don't want to cut any of our woods or berry bushes.
I'll take issue with at least the historical objection of growing rice in California, because before the rivers were leveed in much of CA's Central Valley, it was marsh during the winter and spring. Even now, there are areas designated as flood control (overflow) units where the only sensible spring crop is rice in all but the most severe drought years.
Now, these areas aren't actually all that large and there may well be lots of irrigated rice acres, which is a questionable use of water. There are also areas where rice is grown that never see a winter flood, much less the spring water you need for rice growth.
OTOH, that organically grown CA rice might well be fertilized by ducks, geese, and other birds, since in the last decades many farmers have switched from burning rice fields to leaving stubble to attract waterfowl during migrations.
Please don't dismiss the idea out of hand.
Good post. FYI, chestnuts are more like a grain than they are like other nut crops: mostly carbohydrate, moderate in protien, and very low in fat or oil (1%--3%). Nutritionally considered fat-free, and the only nut allowed in a low-fat diet. Production potential is quite high--2000+ lbs. per acre on 15-year-old trees, and without any fertilizer or fossil fuel inputs. Once established, the only production costs are in the harvesting. Chestnuts are ideal as a staple--nutriionally like grain or potatoes, but taste much, much better.
Try shredding and/or cooking the root crops for chickens. If you have a wood stove it doesn't take extra energy to cook for chickens.
It might be obvious, but isn't there an opportunity or need involved, for someone to grind those nuts and grains locally for use on the table? The available family units are mostly pricey, or energy intensive -- and like many things, preparing the grains and roots may need a seed of experience and wisdom to get started.
I have looked at root cutters since you first mentioned mangels a year ago or two -- the museum pieces on ebay tend to bring hefty prices, if they sell. I *think* I would like some plans for a home-made, human-powered root cutter to use for my chickens and pony. That is, if I can get anything to grow with the swarms of grasshoppers we have. And if I can push the bermuda grass aside. Did someone mention that bermuda grass is considered "invasive"? That seems kind of mild, actually.
Karen, if you know of any truly sustainable (winter flood waters *only*) rice cropping in California, I'd be interested to hear about it - I'm not aware of any.
Brad, yes, grinding and processing will be major parts of the picture.
Actually, Nicole, perennial root crops *do* grow in just about every part of the US - we just don't eat the ones that grow there much. Burdock (technically a biennial, but a prolific self-seeder so functionally perennial), jerusalem artichoke, cattail, groundnut, and others grow in just about every region of the US, which is sort of the point.
I do take your point that high value crops make more sense in many small gardens - that's absolutely true, because the cost of replacing them is higher. At the same time, it is worth asking whether the ability to grow and eat certain nutritionally dense crops might not be valuable, even if they aren't allotted a ton of real estate.
This is one I needed to read this morning, thanks!!
I am still at that stage of learning what to grow here, and still eating much the same as I have for several years.
Nonetheless, I have at least taste-tested what I am growing, especially the sunroot (Jerusalem artichoke) and hopniss (groundnut).
Last winter, the voles ate over 100 of my sunroot plants. So this year I'm just going to let them grow, perhaps pull some to store in buckets of damp sand (away from voles) and eat some, which I like baked with garlic, or cooked in stew or soup.
The hopniss is new to me - I have been increasing what we have, eating very little of it. I especially love its texture when boiled and peeled - I plan to use it as a base for making sauces. It tastes just a little like cashews to me.
So again, thanks for the nudge to eat what I grow, since I don't grow what I eat at this point.
I have a similar problem with geting the ducks to eat some of what I offer them. I would like them to enjoy sprouts more in the winter. Carol Deppe's suggestion of feeding them cooked potatoes and squash in the winter sounds workable. They aren't eating soy, or much corn, but I do buy their base laying mash ration (this time of year they're getting most of their calories from the worms and bugs they eat).
Time to get more serious about changing the way we all eat.
I realize your are writing this from an agricultural perspective but there is a whole other part to consider. I don't think we would be eating tough roots and hard to process nuts as long as there were deer, elk, moose, squirrels, bears, fish, turtles, wild duck, geese, turkeys or other edible animals around.
The even uglier part would be the extinction of any (semi-)edible animals.
ET, I take that pretty much as a given - overhunting of wildlife will be a huge issue. My guess is for anyone who wants to eat a lot of wild meat it would be better to concentrate on small animals, particularly those that are prolific in urban areas. Deer will be as rare as they were 100 years ago in most places - squirrel maybe not.
This speaks directly to me. I do grow a forest garden and I know I don't make the best use of it. I try (not hard enough) and my family isn't too adventurous.
I can only inflict at most 2 jers artichokes dishes per year on them!
I don't use enough sorrel, though I like it.
Sage grows like a weed.
My wineberry doesn't produce many berries, and my Juneberry doesn't really taste that great.
I do occasionally manage to smuggle in some Good King Henry which I like but I do this a great personal (and unpredictable) risk.
I can easily grow far more Swiss Chard than my family will eat.
I'm trying to making better use of cooked mustard greens through the winter.
Its actually hard to pin-down (talking of my wife here) whether she actually is not adventurous or whether she does actually dislike something. I suspect its hard to know. Its taken me years to get over my dislike of Xmas cake for instance.
Its very frustrating and I really feel I've faced the difficulties you express. Sometimes it is hard to keep on trying.
One solution is that I have separate meals but thats time consuming, unsociable and defeatest.
Your point is well taken, Sharon. So much of the emphasis on perennial culture is tropical and subtropical-based we forget what's in our own back yard. Hopniss is a new one on me. Sounds interesting, but it's too dry in the summer here.
The Sacramento Delta would probably be prime rice growing land if it weren't for all those pesky levees put in 150 years ago. That and humans overusing the surface water.
@3: Kate, have you seen "Winter Harvest Cookbook" by Lane Morgan? It's wonderful - I highly recommend it.
Maybe it's because my Dad and I have been playing "the self sufficiency game" since I was a kid, but as soon as I had a real five acres to work with, I've been planning long term for creating a diet with what we can grow here.
Being in the pacific Northwest (and the coldest rainiest part of it at that) grains are pretty much out - though we can grow corn, and thanks to my Mexican mother-in-law I know how to process it into nixtamal. But our staple crop would be potatoes. Hazelnuts are the best plant source of oil, and we have planted a whole hedge of them. With a greenhouse, we can grow most vegetable crops, most years, though of course there will be yearly failures. Here we will depend heavily on brassicas and leafy greens, squash, beets, carrots and other roots. Our orchard is also a major source of food and drink - three apples, three pears, three cherries, and three plums. There's the row of raspberry canes, and let's not forget the wild harvest of nettles., mushrooms, blackberries and herbs.
Right now, we produce a super-abundance of animal protein, with three dairy goats for milk and cheese (which I make), and several goat kids a year for meat. A flock of twenty chickens reproduces itself every year and also provides enough eggs for us and several other families. Of course, we use inputs - we buy hay for the winter and we feed grain to the lactating goats. That will be a problem if TSHTF.
All I can say is that we here in MN ROCK. Because we're trying to breed nuts that can help us make the shift.
And yes, I've got 3 bushes of hazels from them in my very urban yard and my dad has a whole lot more up north on his farm to "try out" :D
Not saying you don't have excellent points, just saying that there are those that see a need to bridge the gap and if you can start by bridging the gap in an industrial farm manner and develop a "taste" now it will make it an easier opportunity to do the backside in a few more years. :D
The Danes and the Norwegians are already looking into this . Not so much the growing it yourself, because realistically, you can't get much out of tiny urban gardens in this cold damp climate. But locally suited crops, sustainable harvests, varied food sources and healthy eating are all basic principles in the New Nordic Food renaissance.
Run the rest of the sites through googletranslate for more info.
Shannon, thanks for the suggestion. I'll add it to the list of books I'm requesting through ILL. Always fun to hunker down with a good cookbook.
Mind you with the year of earthquakes we've suffered through it has been a time of badly needed comfort food.
Aimee, I also reside in the wet part of the Pacific Northwest, just south of Seattle. This year I tried growing several types of grains including: rye, oats, wheat, brewing barley and regular barley. The only one that I'm planning to grow next year is regular barley. It produced really well on marginal soil and has proved to be the easiest to harvest and process off all the grains I tried. Am currently using it as a replacement for rice. I bought a hulless variety from groworganic.com Please feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions. email@example.com
Hey, I bet you can grow rice! A few weeks ago, Mihai went to the "Second Annual Northeast USA Rice Conference", and we're going to try and start a paddy. Here's a cute and useful video by a couple in Vermont on kickstarter trying to expand to an acre. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/840980225/growing-rice-in-vermont
I'm afraid I do not exactly share your foreboding of the future, but I have the privilege of being avid for novelty in food and an avid gardener as well, and concerned about preservation of agricultural (and cultural) diversity, so we share a goal, if not for exactly the same reasons.
My kids are comfortable with an unusual diversity of foods (lucky me!), and I'm constantly looking for new ethnic restaurants and grocers. I grew little plots of Teff, Rye, Oats, Barley, Wheat, etc. to show then where food really comes from (NOT fully-grown from the forehead of Food Giant!), and I'm in the habit of planting things from the ethnic groceries (Taro is actually a very nice ornamental, and pretty widely planted, now that I know what to look for). We're used to having an infinite supply of novelty potatoes, neighborhood-gleaned fresh and dried fruit, etc., and we have (limited success) prepared acorns many times. Mashua, we don't really eat (what a weird flavour: radishes and roses). I like Amaranth and Quinoa more than the kids do (though they like the greens), and I recently figured-out how to make tofu, so soybeans are in the future.
For my purposes, and for yours, I think that diversifying the Western diet, in whatever direction, directly contributes to food security, nutrition, and to my own enjoyment; how can we make it (more) fashionable to try new things? The local CSA farms seem to have hit on one possibility: they each grow some odd non-grocery-store vegetable that they consistently provide to their customers, and once people are "hooked" on that, they have to keep their subscriptions up in order to continue enjoying it. A small step in dietary diversification!
Anyway, I just found your blog, and I'm going to do some reading. For your enjoyment, here is another blog's entry I had made some related comments on: http://agro.biodiver.se/2010/11/when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife-the…
The sugar is extracted from the juice pressed from the stalk, not the grain!