🔖 Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security

Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security by Colin K. Khoury, Anne D. Bjorkman, Hannes Dempewolf, Julian Ramirez-Villegasa, Luigi Guarinof, Andy Jarvis, Loren H. Rieseberg, and Paul C. Struik (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences )
The narrowing of diversity in crop species contributing to the world’s food supplies has been considered a potential threat to food security. However, changes in this diversity have not been quantified globally. We assess trends over the past 50 y in the richness, abundance, and composition of crop species in national food supplies worldwide. Over this period, national per capita food supplies expanded in total quantities of food calories, protein, fat, and weight, with increased proportions of those quantities sourcing from energy-dense foods. At the same time the number of measured crop commodities contributing to national food supplies increased, the relative contribution of these commodities within these supplies became more even, and the dominance of the most significant commodities decreased. As a consequence, national food supplies worldwide became more similar in composition, correlated particularly with an increased supply of a number of globally important cereal and oil crops, and a decline of other cereal, oil, and starchy root species. The increase in homogeneity worldwide portends the establishment of a global standard food supply, which is relatively species-rich in regard to measured crops at the national level, but species-poor globally. These changes in food supplies heighten interdependence among countries in regard to availability and access to these food sources and the genetic resources supporting their production, and give further urgency to nutrition development priorities aimed at bolstering food security.

h/t Eat This Podcast

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🎧 Changing Global Diets: the website | Eat This Podcast

Changing Global Diets: the website by Jeremy Cherfas (Eat This Podcast)
A fascinating tool for exploring how, where and when diets evolve. Foodwise, what unites Cameroon, Nigeria and Grenada? How about Cape Verde, Colombia and Peru? As of today, you can visit a website to find out. The site is the brainchild of Colin Khoury and his colleagues, and is intended to make it easier to see the trends hidden within 50 years of annual food data from more than 150 countries. If that rings a bell, it may be because you heard the episode around three years ago, in which Khoury and I talked about the massive paper he and his colleagues had published on the global standard diet. Back then, the researchers found it easy enough to explain the overall global trends that emerged from the data, but more detailed questions – about particular crops, or countries, or food groups – were much more difficult to answer. The answer to that one? An interactive website.

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While this seems a short and simple episode with some engaging conversation, it’s the podcast equivalent of the floating duck–things appear smooth and calm on the surface, but the duck is paddling like the devil underneath the surface. The Changing Global Diet website is truly spectacular and portends to have me losing a day’s worth of work or more over the next few days.

Some of the data compilation here as well as some of the visualizations are reminiscent to me of some of César A. Hidalgo’s work at the MIT Media Lab on economic complexity and even language which I’ve briefly mentioned before or bookmarked.[1][2]

I’d be curious to see what some of the data overlays between and among some of these projects looked like and what connections they might show. I suspect that some of the food diversity questions may play into the economic complexities that countries exhibit as well.

If there were longer term data over the past 10,000+ years to make this a big history and food related thing, that would be phenomenal too, though I suspect that there just isn’t enough data to make a longer time line truly useful.

References

[1]
D. Hartmann, M. R. Guevara, C. Jara-Figueroa, M. Aristarán, and C. A. Hidalgo, “Linking Economic Complexity, Institutions, and Income Inequality,” World Development, vol. 93. Elsevier BV, pp. 75–93, May-2017 [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.12.020
[2]
S. Ronen, B. Gonçalves, K. Z. Hu, A. Vespignani, S. Pinker, and C. A. Hidalgo, “Links that speak: The global language network and its association with global fame,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no. 52. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. E5616–E5622, 15-Dec-2014 [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410931111
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📺 Seed: The Untold Story | Independent Lens (PBS), S18 E13

Seed: The Untold Story by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz (Independent Lens | PBS)
Worshiped and treasured since the dawn of humankind, few things on Earth are as miraculous and vital as seeds. SEED: The Untold Story follows passionate seed keepers intent on protecting our 12,000 year-old food legacy. In the last century, 94% of our seed varieties have disappeared. This once abundant seed diversity — painstakingly created by ancient farmers and gardeners over countless millennia — has been drastically winnowed down to a handful of mass-produced varieties. Under the spell of industrial "progress" and corporate profits, family farmsteads have given way to mechanized agribusinesses sowing genetically identical crops on a massive scale. But without seed diversity, crop diseases rise and empires fall. More than a cautionary tale of "man against nature," SEED reveals the work of farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers who are fighting a David versus Goliath battle to defend the future of our food. In a story both harrowing and heartening, we meet a wide variety of reluctant heroes working to rekindle a lost connection to our most treasured resource, from the pueblos of New Mexico to a seed bunker in Norway, from India to America’s heartland, from Peru to Hawaii. Among the dozens of people featured are Will Bonsall of the Scatterseed Project, Dr. Jane Goodall, environmental lawyer Claire Hope Cummings, ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan, botanical explorer Joseph Simcox, Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, and physicist/activist Dr. Vandana Shiva. SEED explores the hidden fabric of our food and the people that painstakingly and meticulously curate its diversity, in an era of climate uncertainty and immense corporate power.

This was an interesting documentary on seed which people obviously take heavily for granted.

I think I preferred the shorter podcasts I recently listened to: Why Save Seeds and Seed Law on the fantastic Eat This Podcast [1][2] mostly because they were a bit more scientific and policy-minded. This documentary was interesting, told some great personal stories, but could be viewed as not the most balanced of presentations. It obviously went for a more uplifting and poignant stance surrounding the people and the communities as well as their stories.

It could easily have spent 20-30 minutes delving into more of the science and the policy portions of the story to better underpin the overall arc of the story and simply had a longer 90 minute running time instead of just an hour spent primarily focused on trying to pull simply at our heartstrings.

I agree that the decrease in diversity of our seed stores is an appalling travesty, but the topic deserves better coverage and a more nuanced viewpoint of the relevant science and policy could have done far more to get people interested in the subject. I certainly would have appreciated it.

References

[1]
J. Cherfas, “Why save seeds?,” Eat This Podcast, 07-Oct-2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.eatthispodcast.com/why-save-seeds/. [Accessed: 25-Apr-2017]
[2]
J. Cherfas, “Seed Law,” Eat This Podcast, 27-May-2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.eatthispodcast.com/seed-law/. [Accessed: 25-Apr-2017]
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🔖 From Matter to Life: Information and Causality by Sara Imari Walker, Paul C. W. Davies, George F. R. Ellis

From Matter to Life: Information and Causality by by Sara Imari Walker, Paul C. W. Davies, George F. R. Ellis (Cambridge University Press)
Recent advances suggest that the concept of information might hold the key to unravelling the mystery of life's nature and origin. Fresh insights from a broad and authoritative range of articulate and respected experts focus on the transition from matter to life, and hence reconcile the deep conceptual schism between the way we describe physical and biological systems. A unique cross-disciplinary perspective, drawing on expertise from philosophy, biology, chemistry, physics, and cognitive and social sciences, provides a new way to look at the deepest questions of our existence. This book addresses the role of information in life, and how it can make a difference to what we know about the world. Students, researchers, and all those interested in what life is and how it began will gain insights into the nature of life and its origins that touch on nearly every domain of science. Hardcover: 514 pages; ISBN-10: 1107150531; ISBN-13: 978-1107150539;
From Matter to Life: Information and Causality
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📺 Meet the Press, April 23, 2017

Meet the Press, April 23, 2017 by Chuck Todd (NBC)
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; Sen. marco Rubio (R-FL); Rep Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); roundtable discussion with Cornell Belcher, Robert Costa, Savannah Guthrie and Peggy Noonan

Sadly it appears that narrowing in on 100 Days Trump has accomplished little of note, and doesn’t appear to have much in the hopper from a legislative perspective. Though his staff wants to tout the Supreme Court nominee appointment is a big accomplishment, the score for that really goes to the Republican Senate that stonewalled Obama’s administration. The worse statistic seems to be that the administration is painfully behind the 8-ball on their administrative nominations–they’ve apparently only made 44 to this point and have only had 22 pass the Senate, while prior administrations have had 2-3 times this many through at this point in the game.

Priebus seems to sound very capitulatory on the budget issue facing the administration down on Friday the 28th with the pending continuing resolution to fund the government. That day would be Trump’s 99th and I can’t image that he’d shut the government down and risk the huge flack and pushback in doing such a thing. But then with him, one never knows…

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📖 Read pages 30-43 of Complexity and the Economy by W. Brian Arthur

📖 Read pages 30-43 of Complexity and the Economy by W. Brian Arthur

Chapter 2 is a nice piece on the El Farol Problem which is a paradox which “represented a decision problem where expectations (forecasts) that many would attend [the El Farol bar] would lead to few attending, and expectations that few would attend would lead to many attending: expectations would lead to outcomes that would negate these expectations.”

Zhang and Challet generalized this problem into the Minority Game in game theoretic form.

Page 31:

There are two reasons for perfect or deductive rationality to break down under complication. The obvious one is that beyond a certain level of of complexity human logical capacity ceases to cope–human rationality is bounded. The other is that in interactive situations of complication, agents cannot rely upon the other agents they are dealing with to behave under perfect rationality, and so they are forced to guess their behavior. This lands them in a world of subjective beliefs and subjective beliefs about subjective beliefs. Objective, well-defined, shared assumptions then cease to apply. In turn, rational, deductive reasoning (deriving a conclusion by perfect logical processes from well-defined premises) itself cannot apply. The problem becomes ill-defined.

This passage, though in an economics text, seems to be a perfect statement about part of the problem of governing in the United States at the moment. I have a thesis that Donald Trump is a system 1 thinker and is generally incapable of system 2 level thought, thus he has no ability to discern the overall complexity of the situations in which he finds himself (or in which the United States finds itself). As a result, he’s unable to effectively lead. From a complexity and game theoretic standpoint, he feels he’s able to perfectly play and win any game. His problem is that he feels like he’s playing tic-tac-toe, while many see at least a game as complex as checkers. In reality, he’s playing a game far more complex than either chess or go.

The overall problem laid out in this chapter is an interesting one vis-a-vis the issues many restaurant startups face, particularly in large cities. How can they best maximize their attendance not only presently, but in the long term while staying afloat in very crowded market places.

Page 38:

The level at which humans can apply perfect rationality is surprisingly modest. Yet it has not been clear how to deal with imperfect or bounded rationality.

Chapter 3 takes a similar problem as Chapter 2 and ups the complexity of the problem somewhat substantially. While I understand that at the time these problems may have seemed cutting edge and incomprehensible to most, I find myself wondering how they didn’t see it all from the beginning.

Complexity and the Economy by W. Brian Arthur
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Checkin Rite Aid Drug Store / Thrifty Ice Cream

Rite Aid Drug Store / Thrifty Ice Cream

They have a Thrifty ice-cream here.

Los Angeles, California, United States of America

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Checkin The San Marino Grill

The San Marino Grill

This looks like a cute little breakfast joint. Very friendly.

San Marino, California, United States of America

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Checkin San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe

San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe

They’ve really got a nice selection of almost everything here for browsing. They charge full price on everything, but it’s worth the small mark up for the experience as well as the immediacy.

San Marino, California, United States of America

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📗 Read pages i – xxix of An Introduction to Transfer Entropy: Information Flow in Complex Systems

📗 Read pages i – xxix of An Introduction to Transfer Entropy: Information Flow in Complex Systems by Terry Bossomaier, Lionel Barnett, Michael Harré, and Joseph T. Lizier

From page vi:

The structure of the book is a bit like stone fruit, with a soft wrapping of a hard core, …

Transfer entropy is hard to calculate from real data.

I love that they provide a “List of Key Ideas”, a “List of Open Research Questions”, and a “List of Key Results” in the opening along with the traditional sections of symbols used, acronyms, list of tables, etc. More texts of all stripes should be doing this!

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