The Nature of Crops – Book Reviews

Here is a book review from an old friend Jim Provan who is at Queens in Belfast Plus the next if from the Annals of Botany Blog. Its a fair point about the readership identified on the CABI webpage. This was corrected. But the webpage then automatically reverted back to the first draft. Still trying to get them to sort it out There was also a Radio Wales Science Cafe programme about the book. I am particularly happy with this one from the New Scientist 15 July 2015

The Nature of Crops: Why do we eat so few of the edible plants? From Roman toilet gods to fat hen, good stories abound in this book about why we eat only particular plants WALK around a farmers’ market or the fruit and vegetable aisles in a supermarket and the overwhelming impression is the sheer abundance of colour, form, smell and anticipated flavour. But talk to a botanist, and they will say that it is in fact rather a poor show.Of Earth’s estimated 400,000 plant species, we could eat some 300,000, armed with the right imagination, boldness and preparation. Yet humans, possibly the supreme generalist, eat a mere 200 species globally, and half our plant-sourced protein and calories come from just three: maize, rice and wheat. The obvious questions are why so few and why these crops? In The Nature of Crops, agronomist John Warren takes us on a journey through history where chance, fashion and the ingenious exploitation of biological adaptations interweave. It really didn’t have to be like this. Fat hen, for example, formerly a staple, could still rule the plate, and kiwi remain a pickable fruit alongside China’s rural roads. If he lectures as he writes, Warren’s courses at Aberystwyth University, UK, must be a joy – the book is full of quirky stories. We learn that their malodorous flowers meant that species in the chocolate family (Sterculiaceae) were named after the Roman god of manure, Sterculius. We also ponder who in their right mind thought of eating toxin-packed ankee, cashews and cassava, and explore the sexual trials of being a male pecan nut tree and the food potential of clover. Glorious in breadth and fascinating in depth, all the short stories means The Nature of Crops can be read and reread in the room where Sterculius is king. By Adrian Barnett

Adrian Barnett is a rainforest ecologist at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus

John Gilbey in the Times Higher Education

Always on the lookout for something original in an academic text, I found it in John Warren’s The Nature of Crops: How We Came to Eat the Plants We Do (CABI), an engagingly written look at the development of modern food crops, with reference to more than 50 examples that you have probably never thought hard about.

Plus I am not going to grumble at been given 5 stars on Amazon


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