Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Robert Dunn on the benefits and dangers of modern agriculture

by Take Two®

Robert Dunn Amanda Ward

It's spring. If you want sweet, juicy strawberries, you are in luck. They are in season, so you can get them just about anywhere.

But what if you get the desire to eat a strawberry in fall or winter? Well, they're not in season then, but that doesn't mean you're out of luck.

Nowadays, your produce wish is some farmer's command.

"We can package things up from almost any place in the world and ship them to your dinner table because we've figured out how to make that a cheap thing," Robert Dunn told Take Two's A Martinez.

In Dunn's new book, "Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future," he details the great parts of modern agriculture and why other parts are potentially dangerous. 

On how seasons no longer matter for our crops

"If we go back 10,000 years ago, almost every agricultural community in the world was eating something different. But slowly ... through time, people figured out things that you can grow more of. That started to be coupled with transport. We're now sort of in the pinnacle of that progression, but the version we have today is really pretty astonishing. We can package things out from almost any place in the world and ship them to your dinner table because we've figured out how to make that a cheap thing."

On how 90 percent of the calories we consume come from 15 species of plants

"You think about what you eat ... you probably think about, 'Well there's the green stuff around the edge. That's pretty varied.' But I think the reality is the vast majority of our calories are not coming from those whole foods around the edge; they're coming from processed foods. And those processed foods really are very, very few things. And we sort of combine them in every possible way."

On the benefits and dangers of mass agriculture

"Fewer people are hungry right now as a proportion of the global population than at any other moment in history. [But] because we depend on so few of these crops, what happens to them matters a lot. When we farm to produce as much as we can, those are almost always the same variety and so the problem that sets up is if you're a pathogen and you can figure out a way to eat one of those crops, you've discovered the holy land. You can eat from one end of a field to the other end of the country. That sets up this race between us and the pests and pathogens and it's really sped it up dramatically." 

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