La vie sexuelle secrète des plantes cultivées

ABERYSTWYTH – Les scientifiques estiment qu’il existe plus de 400.000 espèces de plantes sur Terre, dont la moitié au moins sont comestibles pour les êtres humains. En fait, il serait tout à fait possible que nous soyons capables de consommer 300.000 espèces végétales. Et pourtant, nous n’en consommons qu’une fraction. Homo Sapiens, la plus cosmopolite des espèces, qui prospère parce qu’elle est généraliste, ne mange que 200 espèces végétales environ. De manière étonnante, trois cultures seulement – le maïs, le riz et le blé – représentent plus de la moitié des calories et des protéines que nous dérivons des plantes.

Il n’existe curieusement que quelques rares tentatives d’expliquer pourquoi nous consommons si peu d’espèces parmi toutes celles qui sont consommables. Leur goût n’est pas la réponse. Ni leur valeur nutritionnelle. Les plantes que nous mangeons ont été améliorées par des générations de sélection au cours desquelles les agriculteurs ont favorisé les espèces ayant la meilleure palatabilité, la plus grande valeur nutritionnelle et le rendement le plus élevé. Même si l’on déteste le brocoli, il est probable qu’il a plus de goût que la plupart des 300.000 autres espèces comestibles. Les plantes sauvages ont le goût de plantes sauvages parce qu’elles sont restées des plantes sauvages. Mais pourquoi ?

Dans son livreDe l'inégalité parmi les sociétés - Essai sur l'homme et l'environnement dans l'histoire, Jared Diamond, un géographe et l’auteur de plusieurs ouvrages de vulgarisation scientifique, explique que la raison de notre régime alimentaire limité tient aux plantes elles-mêmes. Il affirme qu’aux débuts de l’agriculture, nos ancêtres ont su identifier de manière remarquablement efficace les rares espèces pouvant être domestiquées – c’est-à-dire celles qui n’étaient pas toxiques.

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