Selection of Important Foods for People and Society

The PTFI will analyze first set of 1,000 foods that are representative of geographic and cultural diversity worldwide. Once the database is in place, we can build on this public resource by adding analysis of additional foods, varieties, and cooking methods.

The PTFI established a Working Group, composed of experts around the globe, who informed the selection of important foods for people and the society. The overarching goal of this selection process is to ensure inclusivity. The following dimensions were considered to help define the plenum of global food options:

  • Biology: Where in the phylogenetic tree did the organisms that become food originate? The goal of the PTFI is to include as wide a spectrum of organisms across phylogenetic diversity, including bacteria, yeast, mold, algae, insects, plants, animals, and everything within.
  • Tissue: What part of organisms are used for food? Entire organisms or portions of plants, animals, or microbes? A goal of the PTFI is to capture the diversity of organism parts that are explicitly used, and where not, what is explicitly removed: seeds, nuts, fruits, leaves, roots, eggs, muscles, etc.
  • Geography: Where do foods originate and where do they thrive? A goal of the PTFI is to cover as wide a geography as possible of native origins of foods and also of plants that established conspicuous success after migration and/or transplantation to other regions of the globe. For example, wheat, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, coffee, poultry, tilapia, and yeast are now global crops/commodities: why?
  • Consumers: Who are specific foods targeted to? The PTFI will help us recognize and better understand the concept of food as function for health, such as what and why foods are explicitly targeted to babies and infants, weaning, adolescents, pregnant and lactating mothers, men, women, young, old, ill, well.
  • Processing: Broadly speaking, how are foods treated after “harvest”? A goal of the PTFI is to recognize the long history of and need for processing of agricultural or wild commodities from their natural, intact state into non-native condition, raw or cooked, intact or disrupted, complete or separated, fermented, crushed, pressed, and more.
  • Domestication: How has human intervention modified organisms from their native (wild) state? The PTFI aims to capture the influence of human activity on the genetic ‘evolution’ of organisms and foods, especially to understand the trait-based selection of organisms that have become the dominant, high volume, low toxin, high caloric content crops: grains, fruits, roots, etc. We seek to understand what was gained, and what was lost from this process.
  • Derivation and Formulation: Is the organism (plant, animal, microbe) consumed as a food as is, or is it a derived ingredient in a formulated product or recipe? A goal of the PTFI is to identify functionality as value that is transportable across foods: an apple may be a solitary ingredient, sucrose from sugar cane is a derived ingredient, a potato is solitary ingredient, an onion is often an accompaniment in a formulated recipe, etc.
  • Proportional Abundance: From rice to spice – which foods are the center of a meal and the core of a cuisine, and which are tiny fractions of the diet, but can be just as frequently consumed? A goal of the PTFI is to identify the breadth and depth of foods within consumption patterns. Vanillin is the most used flavor, pepper is the most used spice, neither is as much as 1% of a food. Rice, wheat, potato, corn represent the majority of all foods consumed within entire traditional diets.
  • Affordability: Which foods are luxury and which are staples? A goal of the PTFI is to capture the breadth of value of particular foods.
  • Frequency: Which foods are consumed on a regular basis and which are associated with rare festive events, life transitions, spiritual celebrations? The first 1,000 foods should include those that have a history of distinct value to societies beyond their nutritional value.
  • Complementarity: Which foods are historically consumed as ensembles? The PTFI will enable researchers to interrogate the partnerships of food’s history and synergies they achieved. For example: grains and yeast, milk and lactobacillus, corn and beans, etc.

A core component of this selection process involved on-the-ground engagement with stakeholders in every region of the globe to nominate their own rich cadre of geographically and culturally specific foods. Surveys were distributed through key regional partners to include the input of farmers, women’s groups, and indigenous groups.