Many people take the myth of Demeter — Ceres in Latin — and her daughter Persephone to be just a metaphor for the annual cycle of planting and harvesting. It is, but there may be more to it than that. Why else would it be worth scaring participants in the Eleusinian Mysteries into saying absolutely nothing about what went on during these initiation rites into the cult of Demeter and Persephone?
Maybe the story hides a secret so valuable that it was worth protecting.
Elucidating the Eleusinian Mysteries is one small element in Scott Reynolds Nelson’s new book, Oceans of Grain. It looks at the many, many ways in which wheat and human history intertwine, which he’s been working on for years. It was finally published on 22 February this year.
Two days later, Russia invaded Ukraine.
Today, what the story of Persephone is really about. And over the next three weeks, Scott Nelson and I will be talking about how wheat has influenced human affairs, as it is still doing today.
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.
I think I preferred the shorter podcasts I recently listened to: Why Save Seeds and Seed Law on the fantastic Eat This Podcast  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.
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