“Everybody has a beet story,” said guest presenter, Professor Moore, to the Slow Food members at last Thursday’s meeting. For the next hour, we would be environmental historians and make discoveries about our natural world through the story of one beet. She seemed confident that we would be able to piece together the beet’s geographical history and then use that history to reflect largely on human values. I had my doubts, but was excited to run with it.
I thought my story began with me, hummus recipe in hand, standing in the produce section of a grocery store. I scanned the shelves for beets- a root vegetable characterized by a vibrant red color and earthy seduction- the main ingredient for my dish. However, my beet story began much earlier, perhaps even with a seed. We had to think back before it was in Market of Choice, where was it? How did it get there? Who was responsible for getting it there? Where was it grown?
After asking many questions, this is the story we came up with: The Willamette Valley is the biggest seed producer in the US, yet our beet was grown in California. It is probable that the seed was grown in Oregon, shipped on trucks to a large-scale organic farm in California (where organic agriculture industry is largest) and then shipped back to Oregon to be distributed to the Market of Choice in Eugene where I bought it.
There are a few values we can piece out of this story:
- People should have whatever they want, whenever they want it. (Food is shipped from warm climates where more crops can be grown in the winter.)
- Our food system is driven by economic efficiency. (Although it seems more logical to buy food that is grown nearby, we often buy from far-away places because it is cheaper.)
- Our society relies heavily on infrastructure and oil (Cars, trucks, transportation, roads.)
Although these may or may not be values we agree with, they shape the way we live and interact with our natural world.
- Beets are the second largest source of sugar in the world.
- They come from the same family as quinoa and chard.
- Willamette Valley produces beet seeds and is also the #1 grass seed producer in the world.
- Sugar beets were first bred in Europe in the 1800s to bypass the embargoes on sugar cane.
- When beets were first brought to the US, they weren’t growing well because they were using seeds from Italy.
- The Center of Diversity is area where a plant species has high genetic variation. It can also be the center of origin. For beets, this is in Italy, Morocco and the larger Mediterranean area.