Treasure in the vault: the guardianship of ‘heritage' seeds, fruit and vegetables

Abigail Wincott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Crop heritage is a growing global phenomenon whereby people conceive of change to agriculture in terms of loss, issuing calls to safeguard what remains for future generations. This article seeks to understand what it means to think about food and the politics of its production and consumption through the frame of ‘heritage' by interrogating a prevalent metaphor of plants and seeds as ‘treasure'. It argues the metaphor is more than decorative; it is strategic in producing certain conceptualisations of heritage value. While crop diversity is held to be important, and the great range of food plants a ‘common heritage of humankind', the treasure metaphor is used in ways that impede the maintenance of that diversity, establishing seeds, plants and genes as precious materials best looked after by expert guardians in and secure ‘vaults', ‘banks' and walled gardens. Thus this particular conception of ‘treasure' as a universal good actually plays an important role in legitimising and normalising the privatisation of crops heritage resources.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Abigail Wincott, Treasure in the vault: the guardianship of ‘heritage’ seeds, fruit and vegetables, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Copyright © 2017 The Author(s) 2017. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.


  • Heirloom
  • heritage
  • crop conservation
  • alternative consumption
  • environmental humanities
  • biodiversity


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