Although some people prefer the same foods every day or must eat the same items daily because that’s all they have available to them, most of us prefer options that vary in their nutritional benefits, taste and methods of preparation. Eating diverse foods is a healthy and tasty adventure in home cooking and dining at restaurants or by take-out.
Diversity in agriculture is beneficial not only for nutritional and culinary reasons, but also for the sustainability of producers and their methods of furnishing a necessity for life, food. Let’s examine dietary diversity first.
For clarification, I am not a dietitian or nutrition specialist. I am a farmer/psychologist who likes making and eating delicious and often different and ethnically diverse foods.
Science supports the variety of my food choices, but not always the amounts I like to consume. USDA dietary guidelines in 2018 recommended that a diverse but nutritious diet provides a mix of macronutrients and micronutrients that are essential to helping one feel best.
In 2020, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association added their perspectives. They said a healthy diet includes:
- Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g., lentils, beans), and whole grains such as unprocessed oats and rice, along with moderate portions of other sources of protein and fats.
- Less than 10% of total energy intake should come from free sugars such as those in sugar-sweetened sodas and nearly all fruit juices.
- Less than 30% of total energy intake should come from fats of any type, that is: saturated, unsaturated or trans fats. Saturated fats are usually found in fatty meat, palm oil and many prepackaged foods. Unsaturated fats, such as those in fish, nuts and olive oil, are preferable to saturated fats and trans fats. Trans fats are found mostly in meat and dairy products from ruminants (e.g., cows, goats). A healthy diet should contain less than 10% saturated fats and 1% of trans fats
- At least five portions of vegetables and fruit are needed daily, excluding starchy roots like potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Less than 5 grams (equivalent to about one teaspoon) of iodized salt per day
There are additional benefits of a diverse diet. A 2014 report in Toxicological Sciences by Wu and others indicated that foodborne toxins, such as the cyanide found in almonds, are diminished by consuming diverse diets.
Moreover, customers of community supported agricultural operations say they appreciate the seasonal availability and dietary diversity of the foods their CSAs produce for them.
To be sure, residents of many less modern but rapidly evolving regions in Asia (e.g., India), Africa (e.g., Ethiopia, Kenya), and regions of the Western Hemisphere where subsistence farming is undertaken (e.g., parts of Brazil), consume a diverse diet. However, the residents’ situations are changing as large-scale agriculture overtakes their traditional small farming operations and as grocery stores pop up.
In many countries minority farmers experience historical and systemic disadvantages that reduce diversity among agricultural producers and foods. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture that uses data collected in 2017, 95% of U.S. farmers are non-Hispanic whites, who produce about 95% of agricultural sales.
Additional facts from the 2017 Census of Agriculture include these:
- Hispanics accounted for 2.2% of agricultural sales in 2017, which increased significantly from 2012.
- Asians accounted for 1.3% of agricultural sales, which is a small increase from 2012.
- Native Americans accounted for 0.5% of agricultural sales in 2017 but own 5.6% of U.S. farmland, mostly sparse grasslands and terrain unsuited for agriculture.
- Farms operated by Black farmers accounted for 0.4% of agricultural sales and 1.4% of the U.S. producers in 2017
- From 2012 to 2017 the number of Black producers increased by 5% but the number of Black-operated farms decreased by 3%.
- Eighty-eight percent of Black farmers and ranchers live in 12 Southern states.
It’s well-known that historical disadvantages for Native American farmers resulted from forfeiture of their lands and resources through enforced relocation onto reservations.
Black farmers who acquired equal rights from the Civil War in the 1860s lost their gains a decade later as Jim Crow laws and state and local practices deprived Black farmers of equal opportunities. Remnants of the Jim Crow era continue yet today, but in less obvious ways than before.
Federal mistreatment of Black farmers was addressed in a 1999 legal settlement of the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit and subsequent additional legal actions that required the USDA to pay farmers for past discrimination practices in lending and other programs. Not all Black farmers participated in this redress, however.
There has been other blatant mistreatment of minority farmers, such as Japanese-Americans who were placed into relocation camps during WWII. Economic marginalization continues as a subtle way of forcing minority-owned and small farm operations out of business.
Government actions at the national and state levels and changes in societal perceptions and behaviors are gradually reducing unfairness toward minority farmers. Yet the U.S. is still a long way from achieving complete equality of all farmers.
It is important to remember that diversity enhances options for everyone in several ways:
- Racially and culturally diverse farmers are able to furnish the variety of nutritionally beneficial foods that consumers desire and need.
- Treating all farmers equitably can reduce obesity problems through the production of diverse and optimally healthful foods at the local and national levels.
- During this era of climate change, sustainable and diverse agricultural methods come to the forefront and must be expanded.