Humans need genetic biodiversity in the foods we eat. Historically, we’ve enjoyed a lot of it, as evidenced by the existence of thousands of varieties of tomatoes, potatoes, and apples, to name a few. But that’s changing—and fast. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 75 percent of the earth’s plant genetic resources are extinct, with another third of plant biodiversity expected to disappear by 2050. Some have even predicted that we might be out of food altogether by 2050.
As temperatures rise, the hardiest, most resistant, and most resilient crops—such as corn, wheat, soy, and other starchy staples—are the most likely to survive, says Danielle Nierenberg of Food Tank. (Though, as we saw during the devastating droughts of 2012, these staples aren’t bulletproof either.)
So what else would we eat if other plants went the way of the dinosaur? Nierenberg says we may need to look harder at oft-forgotten indigenous vegetables for our nourishment.
“Crops like amaranth and other indigenous crops are already resistant to high temperatures, drought, etc.,” she says. “These are crops that have been forgotten for a long time; they're often considered poor people's foods or weeds but are often high in micronutrients and vitamins and also resistant to high temperatures, pests, disease, drought, etc.”