Never Out of Season | Rob Dunn

Summary of: Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future
By: Rob Dunn


In ‘Never Out of Season’, Rob Dunn dives into the complexities of our global food supply and its vulnerability to disease and destruction. He illustrates how our desire for convenience and year-round access to ‘seasonless’ foods puts our food systems at great risk. Dunn explores past crises, such as the Irish potato famine, and shares eye-opening stories of ‘biological terrorism’ in the Brazilian cacao industry. By analyzing the approaches of various countries and scientists in preserving plant diversity and food security, this book summary unpacks the intricate interdependence of our modern world with the natural environment.

The Devastating Potato Famine

A million died in Ireland’s potato famine due to the “late blight” that ruined the potato crop— the staple food for the Irish. Infant mortality decreased and life expectancy increased after the introduction of potatoes as a crop. However, in the mid-1840s, the potatoes failed, leading to devastating consequences. The Irish blamed the cold weather, but scientists discovered that oomycetes —water molds—were responsible. This fungus thrived in wet, windy weather leading to 1 million deaths. The potato famine remains a reminder of the tragedy of over-reliance on one crop and reinforces the need for diverse farming practices.

The Monocrop Strategy’s Impact

The lack of diversity in crops brought to Europe led to the Irish potato famine and may cause future devastation from pathogens and pests.

Centuries ago, the Spanish conquistadors and other European conquerors brought food from the Americas to Europe. However, they only brought back a few varieties of root crops instead of a diverse range that can grow in varied climates and soils. They didn’t obtain knowledge from Andean farmers about how to grow, store or prepare crops. Instead of a diversified approach, the Irish and other Europeans replanted identical chunks of potatoes. This monocrop strategy resulted in famine and could replicate today due to the risk of pathogens and pests from the lack of crop diversity.

Preventing History’s Repeat

Modern scientists aim to avoid history’s repetition through the creation of the Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP) in Peru in 1971. The organization was established to research the potato crops native to the country as part of a consortium focusing on different crops and regions. These centers are connected through the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research.

The Brazilian Empire of Cacao Fall

The introduction of witches’ broom disease devastated the cacao plantations in Bahia, Brazil, in the late 1980s. The disease caused tumors on trees and killed them, releasing spores into the air that continued the cycle. Cacao was Brazil’s most important export, and losing the plantations would be disastrous for the economy. Founders of the Comissão Executiva do Plano da Lavoura Cacaueira (CEPLAC) organization launched it in the 1950s to support chocolate tree farmers after the cacao market crashed. Production rebounded through the help of CEPLAC, but farmers couldn’t protect their crops from agricultural terrorism. Luiz Henrique Franco Timóteo and his accomplices introduced witches’ broom to Bahia by bringing infected tree branches from the Amazon region and strategically tying them to cacao plants on the farms of the wealthiest owners to kill cacao and give power to the people. The introduction of witches’ broom forced 250,000 people to lose their jobs, and one million plantation employees and their families relocated to cities to find work. Timóteo was the one most familiar with the Amazon, so he traveled with rice bags hiding the infected tree branches on a bus to Porto Velho in Rondônia, then to Bahia in a CEPLAC vehicle. In 2007, Timóteo was found guilty, but the evidence was inconclusive regarding the other men.

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