Commentary

Insightful variety on the menu

It may be easier to envision how deeply entwined biodiversity is with our everyday experience when you think about it in more personal terms by using words that capture the pleasures it suggests in a local Newburyport dining experience.
Photo by Taylor Grote on Unsplash
Published on
June 23, 2023
Contributors
Allies and Partners
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ACES leaders and Youth Corps team members

Editor’s note:

This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES – The Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

Biodiversity is a term that may sound dry and boring to some people. We have been emphasizing it as it’s an important one to life itself on earth. It may be easier to envision how deeply entwined biodiversity is with our everyday experience when you think about it in more personal terms by using words that capture the pleasures it suggests in a local Newburyport dining experience.

For context, biodiversity refers to the variety of living species on Earth, including all plants, all animals, bacteria, and fungi. So, for us humans, it includes veggies and fruits, meats and seafood, mushrooms, fermented products of all kinds ranging from beer, wine, and sauerkraut to kimchee and blue cheeses.

Let’s begin looking at biodiversity with an appetizer from Newburyport’s Brine restaurant’s winter menu: tuna, hibiscus, cranberry, sesame, scallions and pink peppercorn.

Lots of biodiversity in this example. Tuna, a high on the food chain ocean caught species that delivers both taste, protein and omega-3s. Hibiscus is a tropical flower that tastes and looks good, and it feeds hummingbirds. Cranberries, the low-growing bush in Massachusetts bogs, is the iconic Pilgrim ingredient.

Sesame, the next ingredient, may seem like a simple one but it’s historically a very important species. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the sesame plant likely originated in Asia or East Africa. The ancient Egyptians used the ground seed as grain flour.

The seeds were used by the Chinese at least 5,000 years ago, and for centuries they have burned the oil to make soot for the finest Chinese ink blocks.

That means this one species helped nourish the builders of the pyramids and make the inks that produced elegant Imperial scrolls and likely the Buddhist texts. One little species, whose name is peeking out of a local menu, shows just how subtle and important biodiversity is in human history.

Next is scallions. According to WebMD online, it’s high in fiber and one of its components called “allicin” seems to be cancer fighting, and they are investigating how it does that.

Just one more example of the fact that as humans we are surrounded by other many other species – biodiversity – and that we and they have evolved to form a mutual benefit. We have species mutuality because they help us and therefore, we plant more of them.

Lastly on the plate is pink peppercorn a species from South America and Madagascar. While the pink variety is unique, pepper has been on the human tastiest list for a long time. Pepper’s popularity in Europe rose dramatically in 30 BCE after Rome’s conquest of Egypt, and its use spread rapidly becoming an essential ingredient in food in the Roman world.

Six enticing ingredients on one plate in a Newburyport restaurant is almost a microcosm of history and biodiversity.

The species represented include a high on the food chain predator, tropical plant that feeds humming birds, a wild berry introduced to the Pilgrims by Native Americans, an ancient grain that fed Moses and the Israelites, a cancer- fighting relative of the onion, and spice that was one of the drivers of worldwide exploration and spice trade that made global sea trade profitable and likely paid the bills for Clipper Ships built right here in Newburyport.

The word biodiversity may feel like jargon to some but it has supported our evolution and nourishment for eons. It may be easier to digest the concept if you view it through the lens of history, geography, and your own taste buds.

You might like to learn a bit more about biodiversity by subscribing to our ACES newsletter. and you can add to our biodiversity by keeping your home grounds as natural as possible.

Our Youth Corps asks you to think about the significance of biodiversity and the importance of what we eat. They ask that you provide any thoughts about a project or practice that could contribute to a healthier environment. Send us a note at acesnewburyport@gmail.com. To receive the newsletter or learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit https://www.aces-alliance.org/.

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