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Here at Slow Food, we talk a lot about biodiversity.  To help preserve and foster the variety of life on our planet, we have developed the Ark of Taste, which helps promote growing and eating an abundance of different food varieties.  But why does that matter?

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), reports the majority of our food comes from minimal sources.  According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 12 plant species, 15 mammal and bird species, and a handful of marine life account for 75% of all human consumption.  With thousands of species worldwide, the human race has managed to narrow our diets down to a token few.  This not only has consequences to human health, but also has massive environmental impacts. As all things in nature are interconnected, when one species is endangered or goes extinct, it directly affects the health and presence of other species surrounding it.  

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Slow Food’s Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. By identifying and championing these foods we keep them in production and on our plates. The Ark of Taste is a tool for farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs, grocers, educators and consumers to seek out and celebrate our country’s diverse biological, cultural and culinary heritage.

Slow Food USA has also incorporated the Ark of Taste into our school gardens!   Through our partnership with Seed Savers Exchange, teachers and garden leaders can apply for free Ark of Taste seeds to plant in their school gardens.  There is also the option for students to research an heirloom variety and with the help of their teacher, nominate the product to the Ark of Taste.  As a result, children are being introduced to new flavors and foods and learning the importance of biodiversity.  

The cultural and historical importance that food plays in our lives is intertwined in every lesson.  Below, we have two examples of the different varieties that the Ark of Taste has introduced to school gardens so far, highlighting  cultural significance, fascinating stories , and unique tastes:

Candy Roaster Squash: The Cherokees in the southern Appalachian Mountains originally bred the Candy Roaster Squash in the 1800’s. The first documentation of it being introduced to those beyond the Cherokee Nation was a newspaper article from the Charlotte Observer in 1925. This article tells of the “Indian Fair at Cherokee School” where Candy Roaster Squash seeds were made available to people who applied for them through the Chamber of Commerce.  This cultivar is of immense cultural importance to the Cherokee (evinced by the Cherokee Nation’s protection of Candy Roaster Squash seeds through a seed bank from its Natural Resources Department) and to others who have come to value it over the last century.

Djena Lee’s Golden Girl Tomato: Djena Lee’s Golden Girl tomato is a large golden orange fruit with a semi-thick skin. This tomato was developed by Djena (pronounced “Zshena”) Lee, who was part Native American and the daughter of Minnesota financier Jim Lee. It was grown in the 1920’s, given to Reverend Morrow when he was 15, and has been grown by his family since 1929. The tomato’s intense orange color is very striking. It has an excellent balance of acid to sugar giving it a sweet yet tangy flavor. Flavor was so highly prized that these tomatoes won first place at the Chicago Fair 10 years in a row! Tasters also enjoy its texture throughout, “When eating the center of the tomato it continues to explode in my mouth.”

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These are just two of many stories that can be told about the multitude of varietals within the Ark of Taste.  Efforts to preserve and champion biodiversity through the AoT initiative can be seen in the U.S., as well as across the world where more than 1,100 products have been nominated from over 50 countries since 1996.  Without the protection and reintroduction of these varieties, the stories will be lost along with the extinction of the seed or animal.  Let us work together, consumers alongside producers, chefs, and educators, to prevent this great loss and instead collaborate to create a more joyful, abundant, and diverse world.

If you would like to learn more about the Ark of Taste, check out the online catalog, or nominate a product from your community, please click here!