The Value of Diversity

A recent article in Nature reported on how our ancestors apparently were cooking and eating grains long before they realized they could be grown and invented agriculture. While that’s interesting in and of itself the really interesting thing is the way in which the discovery was made.

Discarded animal bones from eating meat are common at archaeological sites because bones are easily preserved. Grains are much harder to spot because they decay quickly.

But a clever archaeologist realized a few years back grain consumption could be studied through cooking mistakes, the burned and charred accidents that inevitably happen when you cook. Soultana Valamoti pioneered this branch of archaeology, and it’s generated a lot of important new insights.

But what caught my eye is that Valamoti is a woman. I have little doubt the branch of science she launched had been left unexplored, for generations, because almost all the explorers were men1.

Valamoti’s insights highlight an important value of diversity which is often overlooked in debates about it. Many of those who oppose increased diversity apparently do so out of fear they might lose something as a result, and have to accept a smaller piece of whatever pie they currently hold.

That overlooks a critical aspect of increasing diversity: it expands the size and nature of the pies being baked. Which means everyone ends up with more pie, and more varieties of pie…even if the result is a smaller piece of each individual pie. Diversity is in everyone’s self interest.

Where I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s2 there was no Mexican or Indian food available3. I discovered both when I moved to California, and they’ve been massive personal favorites ever since. Sometimes when I’m savoring them I wonder how much poorer my life would’ve been if I hadn’t moved to an area whose diversity made them readily available.

If you do any reading of history you’ll quickly realize today is an exciting and wonderful time with few antecedents. But we have our problems…some of which — I’m looking at you, climate change! — are truly monumental and unprecedented.

Solving them — while stemming off the collapse of civilization and keeping it advancing — will require all hands on deck. It would be monumentally foolish of us to limit the color, gender, whatever of those hands as we struggle through.

Diversity isn’t just a nice to have. We can’t afford not to embrace it.

Besides, by doing so we’ll all get more tasty food to eat, too.

Here’s the Nature article:


  1. It’s well-known archaeologists over-estimated the importance of hunting, and under-estimated the importance of gathering, in hunter-gatherer societies because most archaeologists were men. 

  2. Westchester County, a suburb just north of New York City 

  3. or at least my family never found any 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *