06 September 2008

Seed for Thought

"During the United States-led invasion of Iraq, in March, 2003, the looting of Iraq’s national archeological museum received considerable attention, but almost no one noted that the country’s national seed bank was destroyed. The bank, in the town of Abu Ghraib, contained seeds of ancient varieties of wheat, lentils, chickpeas, and other crops that once grew in Mesopotamia. Fortunately, several Iraqi scientists had placed samples of the country’s most important crops in a cardboard box and sent them to an international seed bank in Aleppo, Syria. There they sit, on a shelf in a cold room, waiting for a time when Iraq is stable enough to store them again.

Afghanistan’s bank, which contained rare varieties of almonds and walnuts, and also fruits including grapes, melons, cherries, plums, apricots, peaches, and pears—many of which originated in the region—was destroyed in the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban. Scientists in Kabul had taken the extra precaution of hiding the national seeds in the basements of two houses in the towns of Ghazni and Jalalabad. But when they returned after the fall of the Taliban they discovered that looters had dumped the seeds on the floor. “Apparently, they were after the jars,” Fowler told me. Those randomly scattered seeds represented dozens, perhaps hundreds, of unique varieties—Afghanistan’s agricultural heritage."

~John Seabrook, Sowing for the Apocalypse

More and more I'm interested in process, how things are made and why they come out the way they do. In the kitchen, this leads me more and more to how plants grow, how livestock are raised, what bees feed on when they make honey, and questions about science and agriculture and how our ecosystem works at large. I've never thought of my cooking in such extreme terms before, but in a way that most simple desire to feed oneself leap-frogs out to an existential question of what and how things grow and come into being. Maybe that's why this piece on seed banks struck a chord with me- you can read the full article here.

I'm on vacation until the 16th, see you all soon!


suzanneelizabeths.com said...

Thank you for writing this post. I've never thought of a country's heritage in terms of their unique food-stuffs. But here it is.....how good it is that some people actually thought to save these treasures in the midst of so much chaos.

Anonymous said...

I love your commentary at the end. It's no coincidence either. I think that the world was set up to be discovered, hence why our basic needs of eating lend themselves to that very discovery.

Y said...

What an interesting post! I must admit, I didn't realise about the existence of seed banks before, and had certainly never thought about food in such terms, so thank you for sharing this information.

whitneyingram said...

Awesome info. With all the turmoil in the Middle East, all we hear about is violence. This article is a good reminder that every place in the world has a rich history and it absolutely should be preserved.