in conversation with Paul Freedman
Eating to Extinction
Wed., Feb 2 • 1:00pm PT • Live • Online
Dan Saladino's Eating to Extinction is the prominent broadcaster’s pathbreaking tour of the world’s vanishing foods and his argument for why they matter now more than ever.
Over the past several decades, globalization has homogenized what we eat, and done so ruthlessly. The numbers are stark: Of the roughly six thousand different plants once consumed by human beings, only nine remain major staples today. Just three of these—rice, wheat, and corn—now provide fifty percent of all our calories. Dig deeper and the trends are more worrisome still:
The source of much of the world’s food — seeds — is mostly in the control of just four corporations. Ninety-five percent of milk consumed in the United States comes from a single breed of cow. Half of all the world’s cheese is made with bacteria or enzymes made by one company. And one in four beers drunk around the world is the product of one brewer.
If it strikes you that everything is starting to taste the same wherever you are in the world, you’re by no means alone. This matters: when we lose diversity and foods become endangered, we not only risk the loss of traditional foodways, but also of flavors, smells, and textures that may never be experienced again. And the consolidation of our food has other steep costs, including a lack of resilience in the face of climate change, pests, and parasites. Our food monoculture is a threat to our health—and to the planet.
In Eating to Extinction, the distinguished BBC food journalist Dan Saladino travels the world to experience and document our most at-risk foods before it’s too late. He tells the fascinating stories of the people who continue to cultivate, forage, hunt, cook, and consume what the rest of us have forgotten or didn’t even know existed. Take honey — not the familiar product sold in plastic bottles, but the wild honey gathered by the Hadza people of East Africa, whose diet consists of eight hundred different plants and animals and who communicate with birds in order to locate bees’ nests. Or consider murnong — once the staple food of Aboriginal Australians, this small root vegetable with the sweet taste of coconut is undergoing a revival after nearly being driven to extinction. And in Sierra Leone, there are just a few surviving stenophylla trees, a plant species now considered crucial to the future of coffee.
From an Indigenous American chef refining precolonial recipes to farmers tending Geechee red peas on the Sea Islands of Georgia, the individuals profiled in Eating to Extinction are essential guides to treasured foods that have endured in the face of rampant sameness and standardization. They also provide a roadmap to a food system that is healthier, more robust, and, above all, richer in flavor and meaning.
Dan Saladino is a renowned food journalist who has worked at the BBC for twenty-five years. For more than a decade he has traveled the world recording stories of foods at risk of extinction — from cheeses made in the foothills of a remote Balkan mountain range to unique varieties of rice grown in southern China. His work has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation, the Guild of Food Writers, and the Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards.
Paul Freedman is the Chester D. Tripp Professor of History at Yale where he has taught since 1997. Before that he was at Vanderbilt Univsity. His teaching and research over many years concentrated on the history of the Middle Ages (particularly in Catalonia). The history of food and cuisine is a relatively recent interest. In 2007 Freedman edited Food: The History of Taste, translated into ten languages. He is the author of Ten Restaurants that Changed America, (2016), American Cuisine and How It Got This Way, (2019) and has recently published a short book for Yale University Press entitled “Why Food Matters.”
Dan Saladino photo by Artur Tixiliski; Paul Freedman photo by Bob Hsiang Photography