Making the uncommon common – moving away from wheat, corn and rice

Our food is dominated by three big grains: wheat, corn and rice. A vast number of processed foods contain these to bulk up content and calories. According to the International Grains Council, the world total grains output is projected to be 2,064 million tonnes (that’s a lot) – and it is only increasing.

Our huge reliance on these crops for food is increasingly bad for the environment with mass monoculturisation resulting in soil erosion, overuse of fertilisers & pesticides along with significant habitat destruction and water contamination.  We are also increasingly at risk of global climate change disrupting the growth cycle with unpredicted weather systems destroying the crops, bringing new pests and altering the landscape. With only just a few key crops in our armoury, if disease or drought hits we’re pretty screwed. According to recent research, and very likely your own experience, the world is getting hotter and the weather more extreme.

This is one of the key reasons diversity could be one significant step toward resilience. Besides, our gut could also use a bit of excitement in its life. But would you welcome new foods into your diet?

But before you can even welcome it, you need to have access to it, which can be difficult when encouraging farmers and countries to adopt new growing methods when government subsidies can be extremely high for the traditional crops. In India, the government has an 86% subsidy for rice – Wowzers. In the US, they have such huge farming subsidies that there is massive over-production of corn, so much so that they feed it to their beef cattle as a way of getting bigger faster (hint: cows can’t fully digest corn so it leads to numerous health issues for the cattle, not to mention increase the risk of pathogens such as E. coli – do you think a healthy cow will produce healthy meat? Check the label next time you buy beef).

One great example of the benefit of alternatives comes from @judeisabella:

Many uncommon grains come with environmental benefits. A grain such as teff, for example, is hardier, more drought tolerant and more nutritious than wheat. It can be grown in water-stressed and waterlogged conditions (depending on the cultivar). Similarly, from an environmental standpoint millet is preferable to rice, which depends heavily on water. In Asia, 20 percent of the rice-growing area is drought prone. Foxtail millet, one of several millet varieties, is the only cereal grain in nature that can produce grain with 4 inches or less of annual rainfall. And many uncommon grains can grow in less fertile soil than wheat, corn and rice require.

At the end of the day, you may think there is nothing you can do about it. But believe me, you can. Every day our purchasing decisions make real changes to the food industry. From price wars to organics. What we want goes. So take the plunge and try something new from this list below and make the world more resilient for future generations.

  • Teff
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth


If you already use these and have some great suggestions for recipes please add them in a comment and if I get enough I’ll write a recipe blog post  🙂

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