Where Our Food Comes From
Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine
by Gary Nabhan
Pub Date 06 Oct 2008
The future of food depends on tiny seeds in orchards and fields the world over. In 1943, one of the ﬁrst to recognize this fact, the great botanist Nikolay Vavilov, lay dying of starvation in a Soviet prison. In the years before Stalin jailed him as a scapegoat for the country's famines, Vavilov had traveled across ﬁve continents, collecting hundreds of thousands of seeds in hopes of ending widespread hunger. Now, another remarkable scientist—and vivid storyteller—has retraced the footsteps of Vavilov's science, passion and persecution to show us the vital importance of his work.
In Where Our Food Comes From, Gary Paul Nabhan weaves together Vavilov's extraordinary story with his own expeditions to Earth's richest agricultural landscapes and the cultures that tend them. Retracing Vavilov's path from the tropics of Mexico and Ethiopia to the glaciers of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, he draws a vibrant portrait of changes that have occurred since Vavilov's time.
Vavilov's is a powerfully important story in today's world of rising food prices, shortages, and even riots and violence. Safeguarding seed diversity as a component of locally sustainable agriculture is critical for ensuring tomorrow's food supply and averting famine. But as Nabhan shows us, it is threatened by climate change, global food markets, genetic engineering, the loss of traditional knowledge, and barriers to food democracy.
Through discussions with local farmers, visits to outdoor markets, and comparing his observations in eleven countries to Vavilov's journals and photos, Nabhan reveals just how much we've already lost and how resilient farmers and scientists are working to save the remaining living riches of our world.
It is a cruel irony that Vavilov, a man who spent his life working to foster nutrition and traveling the globe, ultimately died from starvation, caged in a cell. In telling Vavilov’s story, Where Our Food Comes From brings to life the intricate relationships among culture, politics, the land, and the future of the world's food.