Saving Savors and Savvy

05 May 2008

Gary Nabhan, a friend of Slow Food and a regular contributor to its publications, is about to publish a new book, Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, a list of 1,080 items endangered edible plants animals and also recipes that were once relatively popular in American cooking.

From the Carolina flying squirrel to the Hutterite soup bean, from Ny’pasalt grass to Waldoboro green neck rutabaga, from the Tennessee fainting goat to the Black Sphinx date, from the Centennial pecan pie to the whole pit-roasted Plains pronghorn antelope … the list runs to 1,080 items

Nabhan’s philosophy is that to save the varieties in question, it is necessary to revive their popularity — which, in the case of agricultural products and some wild foods such as clams that benefit from regular harvesting, means encouraging people to eat them.

After working closely with culinary, environmental and conservation groups, such as Seed Savers Exchange, Chefs Collaborative and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, to draw up the list, he exploited growing interest in American regional food to persuade hundreds of chefs, farmers and diners round the country to grow and cook some of the foods.

The job of assessing whether the foods on the list were worth reviving and promoting — in terms not only of their gastronomic value but also of their role as a part of local American culture — was carried out by Slow Food USA.

The list is divided into 13 culinary regions, or ‘nations’: for example, the Pacific Coast from California to northern Mexico is ‘acorn nation’, while the mid-Atlantic seaboard is ‘crab cake nation’. ‘Moose nation’ covers a huge chunk of Canada and New York City is part of ‘clambake nation’.

Speaking to The New York Times, Makalé Faber Cullen, a cultural anthropologist at Slow Food USA, complained how farmers are often more interested in innovating and crossbreeding than in preserving cultural traditions and biodiversity.

‘That’s where the tension lies in this project,’ she said. ‘A lot of times products fall into disuse because farmers themselves decide they are not worthy of the marketplace. A farmer will say, “I don’t want to grow out that tomato anymore. I want something with thicker skin”.’

Gary Nabhan is an ethnobotanist and expert on Native American foods. For the last 15 years he has been a technical advisor on conservation and food revitalization projects with the Seri Indians on the Sonoran Desert coast of Mexico, where he is nicknamed ‘Hant Coaxxoj’ (Horned Lizard), and his wife, Dr Laura Monti, coordinates the Seri Fair Trading Post initiative. Nabhan lives in Arizona, where he breeds Navajo churro sheep and grows heritage crops.

Speaking to The New York Times, about his new book, he commented, ‘This is not just about the genetics of the seeds and breeds. If we save a vegetable but we don’t save the recipes and the farmers don’t benefit because no one eats it, then we haven’t done our work’.

Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods
Chelsea Green Publishing May 15 2008
Paperback, 350 pages
ISBN-10: 1933392894
ISBN-13: 978-1933392899

National Center for Political Analysis (NCPA)

New York Times

To find out more:
Gary Nabhan official website

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