The Culinary Breeding Network, founded by professor Lane Selman, aims to build communities of plant breeders, seed growers and other stakeholders to improve quality in vegetables, fruits and grains that are relevant and desirable for organic farmers and their customers.
The Network organizes culinary explorations and other activities to inspire connection and collaboration throughout the food system. Among these was a trip to Italy, visiting the places where radicchio – the most famous form of plant Chicorium intybus – originates from.
Radicchio is an excellent example of selective breeding for culinary purposes, as described in the article written to document the experience:
[…] radicchio di Treviso has been bred for, among other things, this ability to be stored for a very long time. It has been selected, not by deity or chance, but by the cumulative decision-making of thousands of farmers.
Individually, most selection events are unremarkable. A farmer pauses briefly while considering which plants to allow to produce seed, eventually choosing one with a leaf shape that speaks to them, one with a particularly attractive color. Or a field floods and most plants die, leaving only a few hardy survivors to pass their genes to the next generation.
The result of these millions of moments of selection – some coordinated, some idiosyncratic, some entirely random – has been this: A crunchy, bitter, ovoid vegetable so closely linked to this specific Italian region that it is protected by the same laws governing Champagne and Stilton.
Through selective breeding, we impose our values on domestic plants. Crops like radicchio have evolved, and continue to evolve, in response to human desires: A redder leaf, a more uniform shape, adherence to market standards, the ability to silently grow a crisp, tender heart while buried in a dark, manure-filled corner of a barn through the cold months of winter.M. Waterbury, Whetstone
Read the whole article below.