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Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The Social Worlds of Wheat

Jessica Barnes

Wheat is one of the world’s most widely grown, traded, and consumed crops. This article reviews the interdisciplinary literature on human-wheat interactions, tracing how various actors engage with wheat up until its point of consumption. I look first at wheat as a seed, examining efforts to transform wheat over time through farmer selection and scientific breeding, and the emergence of high-yielding wheat, hybrid wheat, and genetically modified wheat. Second, I look at wheat as a plant and what it means to farm wheat. I highlight two key dimensions of farmer-wheat interactions—farmers’ choice of variety and their management of risk. Finally, I look at wheat as a grain and the practices of transportation, sorting, and trade that mediate flows of harvested grain from field to market. Through reviewing these three areas of literature, the article reveals the social worlds that both shape and are shaped by this globally significant crop.

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Eleni Tourlouki, Antonia-Leda Matalas and Demosthenes Panagiotakos

The present work documents the core diet of a population in a Mediterranean island that has been minimally eroded by industrialization and tourism, and links present food-consumption patterns to the foods' historical roots and to the exploitation of natural resources available to the community. Demographic, behavioral, cultivation, and food-intake information were collected among inhabitants of the isolated northern villages of Karpathos. The core diet of the elderly village inhabitants was found to be based on wheat, barley, legumes, and olive oil. Inhabitants in the northern villages of Karpathos rely on local resources for most of their food. Absence of mechanized farming, the social role of women, and customs of inheritance are factors that have contributed to the preservation of traditional food-related practices.