It’s strange to look at a table and think you could eat it. It’s not common that you wood (geddit?). Unless the table was made of bamboo and you had recently frolicked around Japan eating delicious bowls of ramen with miso, fresh greens, and braised bamboo shoots. Bamboo is just one of a range of super-crops that are fast-growing, do not rely on pesticides, and have such a wide range of uses that we can simultaneously sit on the very food we’re consuming. Sustainability is, at its core, a characteristic of whether or not we can keep doing what we’re doing and maintain the kind of earth we want, both for ourselves and for future generations. If we want a future where food is readily available, distributed to the far reaches of the planet and grown with conscious thought to its life, we need to think about how our processes interact with the earth’s resources. We’ve seen how embracing the beauty of ugly fruit
in modern supply chains, has massive outcomes for humans and the environment. Here’s another way we can change the way food is supplied and produced: consider the benefits of crops that could set us up for a sustainable food future, where fewer pesticides and greater output result in happier ecosystems and less labor-intensive manufacturing processes. One school of thought says GMO is the only way to sustain food production with a growing population. But another says a more accessible approach to this problem is sustainable agriculture—which focuses on healthy soil, minimal pesticides, and diversified crops. The abundant, multipurpose crops below tie in closely with this vision, showing us how more sustainable food can be a reality.
We love pandas. We love that they’re smart enough to thrive on one of the world’s most sustainable crops, growing at lightning speed with minimal pesticides, high density, and generally minimal attention. Bamboo is now used throughout the world for textiles, furniture and food, though the latter is a fairly new development in the Western world. Bamboo can be eaten with ramen, curries, and more. If you ever saw an attention-seeking crop, this ain’t it.
02. Edible Weeds
Surrendered your plants to the green monsters circling them? You know the ones. But what if you knew they’d make a delicious salad? Dandelion, once a gardener’s enemy, is a perennial plant that just won’t leave soil alone. Sure, this could be a burden, but maybe that’s because we haven’t given it enough of a chance in food. Dandelion is high in iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, B complex, C, and D. Nasturtiums, chickweed, and nettle could even be growing in your potted plants. Identify them, and you may just cut down on that grocery bill.
Biofuels have done an amazing job over the last decade to improve energy access and decrease environmental impact. Sorghum is an interesting source of biofuel—because like bamboo, we can also eat it. As a gluten-free cereal, it can be milled into flour, or used as a whole grain in salads, bakes, and desserts. What’s especially interesting is that it’s grown in normally infertile conditions. Its drought tolerance and versatility makes sorghum a reliable product in Africa and parts of Asia, though in the USA it’s mainly used to feed livestock and (increasingly) produce ethanol.
Millet may remind you of the bird feeder hanging from your porch since 1999, but it’s making a comeback as we revisit the diverse array of easy-growing grains in the world. Millet is a small-seeded grass that requires just a fifth of the amount of water we need to produce rice, and can grow in a variety of soil conditions. What’s more, it doesn’t require pesticides, thrives in substandard environments, and its extensive root systems improve soil fertility for surrounding plants—making it a great addition to a field of diversified crops. It’s also super delicious as a porridge with mixed nuts.
It’s smoking hot right now. Hemp grows incredibly fast, needs very little land to grow, and, like millet, improves the soil health of its fellow plants. To add to the list, it’s naturally resistant to most pests, which means it was even used after the Chernobyl disaster to cleanse groundwater of toxins and pollutants. In the textiles world it needs half the land area and water as cotton, and it’s making a mark replacing traditional fuel, paper, concrete, and plastic. It’s basically saving the world. Last but not least, hemp is also great in the kitchen (overachiever). Hemp seed butter, milk, and hemp bars might only be in tiny alternative grocery stores right now, but times are definitely a-changing.