According to award-winning food journalist Dan Saladino, you might not be eating as many plants as you think, even if you follow a largely plant-based diet. In his newest book Eating to Extinction, he notes that over time, humans have eaten over 6,000 different species of plants. Today, thanks to our modern agricultural practices, we mainly eat nine.
Of course, a significant part of the equation is to tweak said agricultural practices: “There’s only so much we can do, because there are some very big structural forces that need to be remedied,” Saladino says on the mindbodygreen podcast. However, it is possible to support biodiversity in our diets at the individual level—here, he shares a couple creative ways to actually eat more plants.
How to support biodiversity in your diet.
Step one: Connect with your food environment. Saladino references the Hadza—the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in northern Tanzania—who practice no form of agriculture and have a special relationship with the land (thanks to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, they also have extremely diverse gut microbiomes). “Children as young as five can completely read the landscape and understand the biodiversity of their environment,” says Saladino.
That’s not to say we must all become hunter-gatherers. “We just need a greater awareness of the environment in which we exist and the food and farming stories that surround us,” Saladino adds. Understand the food production process and where your crops come from—as you make those relationships, chances are you’ll uncover new ways to interact with the food. “Even if you live in an urban area, you don’t have to go that far to actually understand that there is food production taking place,” says Saladino. “Try and not only bring in diversity of food but also diversity of food businesses.”
Next, Saladino suggests researching all the ways you can indulge in your favorite foods. Let’s say you love a rich, creamy bar of milk chocolate: “Interrogate the diversity of that product,” says Saladino. “Understand the difference of what [cow’s milk] from Venezuela versus Ecuador tastes like, consists of, and the different processes involved.” Are there any differences in cacao trees from West Africa versus Southeast Asia?
If you’re a coffee enthusiast: What are the unique differences of certain beans and roasting practices? “We can become our own experts of the diversity of our favorite foods,” Saladino declares. As you do your own research, you’ll naturally incorporate a higher variety of these foods into your diet.
Of course, not everyone has access to multiple types of coffee, or cheese, or chocolate—connecting with your food environment does take time and resources. At the end of the day, it’s important to do what you can in terms of biodiversity: If that means adding one more type of veggie to your plate, that’s OK. If that means sprinkling a greens powder over your meals to elevate the nutritional load, you can go that route, too. In fact, some high-quality, organic formulas include a bunch of hard-to-find veggies (ours has 31 powerhouse ingredients!), so you can even reap their nutritional benefits.
If you form a relationship to your food environment, you will likely eat a larger variety of the foods you value. In short: Biodiversity and human connection go hand-in-hand. Take it from Saladino: “The human story is one in which diversity within diets and from landscapes is essential to our well-being, our identity, and our happiness.”