Did you know our diets today are largely reliant on the production of around 12 different types of crops? Yes, only 12. It seemed like a staggering low number to me, especially when considering that the world hosts an estimate of at least 200,000 species of edible plants.  Whats even more surprising is that of these 12 crops, “only three – rice, maize and wheat – contribute nearly 60 percent of calories and proteins obtained by humans from plants.” (FAO)

When faced with these facts, I find myself asking what may be some obvious questions:

  • How exactly do thousands species and varieties of edible plants seemingly become forgotten?
  • What are the sustainability and food security implications of our diets being reliant on such few crops?
  • What foods have become forgotten in the Netherlands?

In the spirit of this years Food For Thought Festival’s theme: ‘Where does our food come from?’ This blog seeks to briefly explore some of these questions, and by doing so, hopes to introduce you to “forgotten foods” and their importance to the development of more fair and sustainable food systems.

What are forgotten foods?

Generally speaking, forgotten foods refer to foods that come from one of the thousands of plant species that are edible, but are not produced at a commercial scale. Of these forgotten species, most are local variants of traditionally consumed fruits and vegetable species. (FAO)

How do foods become “forgotten”?

Economics of food production

Put simply, farmers have to make money too. While forgotten foods may be more well suited to local growing conditions, it is food crops that exhibit the genetic ability to grow fast, and to grow in abundance that are prioritized in todays global food system. According to the UN FAO, this is one reason why crops like maize, wheat, and soy have become increasingly produced in favor varieties of fruits and vegetables that are traditionally grown locally.

Lack of information

Another reason why some foods become forgotten, is due to lack of information on these fruits and vegetables. Per Bioversity international: Most of the worlds 1,097 cultivated vegetable species have received very little attention from research and conservation initiatives and are poorly documented by production statistics.”

Overall, this lack of quality information on forgotten fruits and vegetables, has made it harder to commodify them because “ it hampers a wider recognition of their values and understanding of how best to grow, process and market them.” (Bioversity International)

Why does it matter?

Forgotten foods matter because they have the potential to contribute to more sustainable and secure diets and food systems. By increasing production of local forgotten foods, there would be less demand for food products that are traditionally secured via resource intensive import markets.

In addition, most forgotten foods are also known to be highly nutritious. They can also be used as as inputs for the production of medicines and biofuels

Forgotten Vegetables from the Netherlands

According to a study commissioned by DCW Enschede and the Municipality of EnschedeIn, there are several forgotten vegetables that may be viable for increased production in the Netherlands; these include:

  • Black Radishes
  • Cabbage Palm
  • Cardon
  • Good King Henry
  • Parsley Root

Conclusion

All in all, forgotten foods may be very well hold the key to the sustainable transformation of our global food systems, as well as make us healthier. Have you tried or grown any ‘forgotten’ foods? Do you know any good recipes that use ‘forgotten’ foods?  Please feel free to share in the comments!

To learn more about fair and sustainable foods make sure to check out Young and Fair’s Food For Thought Festival! The festival is currently planned to be held in the Summer of 2021 at de Haarlemer Kweektuin in Haarlem. Make sure to follow @foodforthoughtfestival on instagram for updates!

Cheers!

By: Eric Little
Food For Thought Festival – Communications Coordinator