Amber Waves: The Extraordinary Biography of Wheat, from Wild Grass to World Megacrop

Catherine Zabinski

Format: Hardback

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

Published: 22nd Apr '20


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On our breakfast tables and in our bakeries, we take for granted a grain that has made human civilization possible, a cereal whose humble origins belie its world-shaping power: wheat. Amber Waves is a biography of a group of species that grew in scattered stands in the foothills of the Middle East until our ancestors discovered their value as a source of food. Over thousands of years, we moved their seeds to all but the polar regions, slowly cultivating what we now know as wheat, and in the process creating a world of cuisines that use wheat seeds as a staple food. Wheat spread across the world, but as ecologist Catherine Zabinski shows us, a biography of wheat is not only the story of how plants ensure their own success: from the earliest breads to the most mouthwatering pastas, it is also a story of our own species’ ingenuity in producing enough food for ourselves and our communities. Since the first harvest of ancient grain, we have perfected our farming systems to grow massive quantities of food, producing one of our species’ global megacrops–but at a great cost to ecological systems. Moreover, despite our vast capacity to grow food, we face problems with undernourishment both close to home and around the world. Weaving together history, evolution, and ecology, Zabinski’s tale explores much more than the humble origins and rise of a now ubiquitous grain: it illuminates our complex relationship with our crops, both how we have transformed those plant species we use as food, and how our society–our culture–has changed in response to the need to secure our food sources. From the origins of agriculture to gluten sensitivities, from our first selection of the largest seeds from wheat’s wild progenitors to the sequencing of the wheat genome and genetic engineering, Amber Waves sheds new light on how we grow the food that sustains our species.

Additional information

Dimensions 127 × 203 mm
Page Count 216