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  • Writer's pictureBethann Garramon Merkle

Sketchbook Snapshot: Lunch Biodiversity

20170101_lunch sketch_cr.jpg

walnut, broccoli, carrot, radish, onion, swiss chard

First, a quick bit of context:

I’m curating the @IAmSciArt account on Twitter this week. And, a week dedicated to #sciart conversations with the friendly and creative folks of the interwebs strikes me as a fantastic way to kick off 2017.

So far today, we’ve discussed SciArt-related time management and habits, such as scheduling time to regularly sketch or explore a new media like relief printing or painting with Quink. And, since I recommended quick and informal sketching as a good way to maintain a daily sketching habit, I figured I’d sketch my lunch.


grilled cheese sandwich + salad

Playing the Plant GastroDiversity Game

In a bit of a punt to make lunch relate to science somehow, I’ve tapped into the Plant GastroDiversity Game.* The general rule is to see how many plant families you can eat in a given period of time. I’ve pared the game down to investigating what was in the lunch I ate.

The Plant GastroDiversity Game is an idea from Stephen B. Heard (of the delightful Scientist Sees Squirrel blog and @StephenBHeard). I hope he’ll comment on all this, and point me to even better resources for figuring out how biodiverse a sandwich and salad might be.


A rough sense of where my lunch ingredients originated (geographically).

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve come up with: 10 distinct plant families in a deceptively simple lunch.*

First, I’ve organized the ingredients by date order, according to approximately when they came into common use as a food item. This doesn’t quite jive with Stephen Heard’s evolutionary history angle, but it’s another interesting way to think about diversity and history.

  1. Wheat in the sourdough bread (~10,000 BC): Poacea (Triticum spp.). I found a public domain article called “Wheat” (Shewry, Journal of Experimental Botany, 2009) that has loads of info about the history and life history of the plant. The history of bread making is totally fascinating, as curated by Lynn Olver of And, here’s wheat’s ‘official’ breakdown from the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).

  1. Lettuce (~5,000 BC): Asteraceae (Latuca sativa) Lettuce is an aster!!!! That is so fun to know! It’s also one of my lunch ingredients I grow every year. I like to source seeds from FedCo, a seed company in Maine. I like FedCo’s ethics, attention to detail, and their catalog makes great reading and is full of vintage illustrations. Of equal importance, is their extensive offering of cold-hardy seeds, which are essential for gardening where I do, at 7,200 feet in elevation! Here’s lettuce’s ITIS profile

  2. Dill cucumber pickles (~5,000 BC/1,000 BC): Cucurbitaceae (Cucumis sativus) is thought to have originated in India around 5,000 BC, and folks there started pickling cucumbers around 1,000 BC. According to Olver’s Food Timeline, though, some versions of fermented pickles have been around since Ancient Egypt. Here’s an EOL overview  and here’s the ITIS info.

  1. Olive oil (2,500 BC): Oleaceae (Olea europaea) might actually have been in use as a foodstuff as early as 10,000 years ago, according to EOL. It was pretty late coming to North America, and even then, for a long time, was almost exclusively used by English and French for salad dressing; only elite Spaniards used it in cooking. ITIS profile here.

  1. Lemons (1200s):  Rutaceae (Citrus x limon) Said to have originated in north India, lemon arrived late on the European scene. It’s name is thought to be a convolution of the Chinese name for it (limung) transformed through Arabic (li mum) and through Spanish and Russian (both limon) into English’s lemon. ITIS and EOL profiles.


Dill pickle!

*I probably could have deconstructed the sourdough bread further, and maybe there’s identifiable plant material in the cheese and/or butter of the sandwich. And I didn’t figure out what all was in the salad dressing. My husband and mother-in-law prepped lunch, so I just took it at face value. 🙂

#foodforthought #journal #sciart #SketchbookSnapshot

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