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  • Writer's pictureKristin Cole

How To Create Biodiversity on Your Plate

Photo by Kristin Cole

It's time to share some insights from a unique climate workshop I've been participating in called Drawdown, Cheer Up!, organized by Marin Restorative Communications. Particularly now, we are experiencing (but often not talking about) a sense of climate anxiety - whether we've carried it for years or are awakening abruptly to the environmental realities we can no longer ignore.

I love that this workshop weaves together the acknowledgment of our emotions with designing individual transition stories, all while sharing actionable solutions through the lens of food. These are all powerful tools that can collectively lead us to a promising new paradigm, and a cooler planet! I've learned through my own life experiences that having an awareness of pain, grief, anxiety is an essential step in moving forward.

This past week, we focused on steps to build a "biodiverse pantry" at home. I was asked to create and present a recipe to the group featuring an array of ingredients that are both delicious and sustainable. Of course I said yes to this fun opportunity!

A quick background into the current state of agricultural affairs in this country: Since the Industrial Revolution, the system has been set up for maximum efficiency, high yield and uniformity, resulting in single fields of mainly corn, soy and cotton (most of which are used to feed livestock).

What does this mean? Well, mono-cropping has resulted in a loss of the healthy variety of plant species that our environment and bodies once knew. And also perishing are small, regenerative farms whose rich, nutrient-dense soils and diversified system of growing we need more then ever.

If you consider what’s on your plate, a higher diversity of ingredients supplies more and varied good bacteria to the microbiome; it creates a more resilient environment; and preserves ancient traditions and flavors. A win for all.

It's critical that we support biodiversity when buying our food and not just rely on the same few species that our palettes know and love. Think of how few varieties of apples we see in the store now or that lone species of Cavendish banana (yup, that yellow one) in a sea of banana varieties we could be sampling.

Our local farmers truly love to experiment with new seeds and grow diverse species on their small farms as long as us consumers continue to buy them. So let's lead with curiosity, ask questions and be inspired in our kitchens. It's time to bring back our sense of delight!

We can also try out new and interesting whole grains that will most likely be nutritionally dense as well - ever heard of fonio, amaranth or sorghum? Or maybe replace ground beef with wild game like bison or emu. I made a delicious emu chili the other day and neither wife nor dog knew that I had made the swap! Sneaky me.

What about exploring the heritage foods and ancient traditions from indigenous populations? There's so much wisdom in the food ways of our past. The documentary Gather (on Netflix in November) is a great resource. Since grocery stores aren't necessarily promoting these foods, we either need to ask for them or shop from sources that do like a farmers market or directly from a local farm. Know that it's ok to begin with just a simple swap or addition of one ingredient at a time. This should be fun and explorative, not overwhelming.

ginger from Transplanting Traditions Farm

So let's dive into a grain salad that captures the biodiversity of autumn flavors, inspired by all the heirloom ingredients I found at the Chapel Hill, North Carolina farmers market:

  • delicata squash (try other varieties of winter squash this time of year)

  • local apples (in the bruised bin, for a bargain) -- substitute with pears or fuyu persimmons if you wish

  • tiny breakfast radishes with a healthy display of edible leaves

  • herbs: cilantro, parsley, chives, purslane (one of the most nutritious "weeds" out there, lemony flavor)

  • arugula (spicy and peppery)

  • fresh ginger...see photo!

You'll notice that all of these ingredients are bursting with delicious flavors, colors, textures and nutritional density because they are literally of the season!

With a hearty base of farro (an ancient wheat originating in the Fertile Crescent and later popularized in Italy) as our canvas, we can come up with endless combinations throughout the year, varying our dressing and ingredients to elevate and express the season. Hello fall.

I ended the presentation by showcasing the same salad in two colored dishes as the workshop also centers around art and creativity. Which do you prefer to frame the piece - black or white? And tell me, what new ingredient will you try this season?


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