National Geographic : 2011 Nov
LETTERS I was struck by the parallels between the global food supply and a person's investment portfolio. To achieve consis- tently solid returns, virtually all investment managers agree on principles of diversification to protect against losses. And past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. Yet in addressing the goal of a consistent world food supply, the approach of big agriculture has been one of little diversity and total reliance on what has been successful most recently in a select group of regions. We saw what happened in the investment world when people put their entire portfolios into dot-coms or real estate. Should we expect it to be any different with agriculture? JOE MILLER Cayucos, California I'm delighted to see "Food Ark" highlighting the urgent need to protect and preserve our precious crop biodiversity. However, I must take exception to the photos on page 123 and the caption indicating that these are all potatoes. Five of the tubers shown are the root crop oca (Oxalis tuberosa, not even the same genus as potatoes, Solanum tuberosum). These vividly colored, nutty-sweet tubers are prominent in Andean agriculture, but they are most definitely not potatoes. CAROL GOLAND Executive Director Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association Columbus, Ohio The images on page 123 were meant to depict the great diversity of South American tubers. It's true that some shown are ocas and others are potatoes; what's similar is that they are both tubers, and are harvested and eaten in the same way. We used the more familiar term "potato" in the generic sense even though they are different plants. In "How to Feed a Growing Planet" a claim is made that soybeans provide up to 15 times more protein per acre than land set aside for meat production. This argument overlooks some important facts. There are large tracts of land on this planet that are suitable for grazing but quite useless for growing crops. Also, while many people are able to live comfortably on a vegetarian diet, there is a sizable propor- tion who, for physiological reasons, cannot. Implications to the effect that all proteins are nutritionally similar serve no good purpose. Certainly there is a place for the soybean in today's world, but possibly not as a substantial element in some human diets. JOHN WATSON Bathurst, Australia The Search for Cleopatra I submit that Kathleen Martinez and the other searchers for Cleopatra's tomb are barking up the wrong tree. Isn't it possible that Cleopatra and Mark Antony were not buried but rather cremated? Cremation was a standard Roman way to dispose of bodies. It was suitable for nobles. Furthermore, it was common for those in power to cremate their rivals in order to avoid creation of shrines by sympathizers of the dead. ROBERT F. FOX San Antonio, Texas I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article on Cleopatra. But I believe that it gave far too much credit to Octavian. We are referring to a man who led a war, divided and conquered one of the greatest empires of history, and after these "victories," murdered his own stepbrother, who was the more rightful heir to Julius Caesar. After all, Octavian was only the nephew (and adoptive son) of Julius Caesar, while Caesarion was the blood son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Do we really believe that Octavian would be honorable enough to respect and carry out the burial wishes of Mark Antony and Cleopatra? I believe the more likely scenario is that once Alexandria was con- quered, Octavian ordered their bodies to be simply thrown into the latrine. This would certainly explain why nobody ever found anything. SHARON ULAM Riverside, California Cremation was a standard Roman way to dispose of bodies. It was suitable for nobles.