Interview and words by Vivian Whitney Edited by Giselle Kennedy Lord Photos by Lindsay Shorter
“It’s a really great opportunity to introduce people to new foods. So much care is taken in highlighting the ingredients themselves. They’re not muddled with seasonings and spice where the whole dish might taste kind of the same. One of the biggest focuses is the ingredients — and then the community [and story] surrounding that ingredient.”
When your taste buds first fall in love with something like Carolina Gold Rice, “you realize that you need the resources and support of things like the Ark of Taste to make sure that it doesn’t disappear from [your] foodways,” says Carrie Larson, board chair of Slow Food Charleston. The Ark of Taste Dinners hosted by the chapter are helping to do just that.
Every summer, members of Slow Food Charleston come together for an annual Ark of Taste Dinner, where a team of chefs works together to create a menu that highlights Ark of Taste ingredients from the region. Carrie has helped plan all but the inaugural dinner and notes that each year looks (and tastes) a little different. Carolina Gold Rice was an integral part of that first dinner.
“There is a genuine excitement when people, especially in Charleston, [recognize] such a rich food history. Even though many Charlestonians know Carolina Gold Rice, they want to learn more about how integral a part of our culture it is, not only today but even 100 years ago. It was not just an export crop, but shared by
Anna (she/her) joined Slow Food USA in 2016 after working in digital storytelling and teaching multimedia production. She began as the director of communications and campaigns before becoming executive director in 2019. In these roles, she has amplified the voices of the network, introduced national campaigns that promote biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, and developed partnerships with chefs, leaders, companies, and communities around the world.
With a master's degree in ethnomusicology and journalism from Indiana University, Anna was first drawn to Slow Food by its joyful combination of food, culture and diversity. She grew up in rural upstate New York, where her family raised turkeys and made their own sausage, and has lived in Vietnam, Uganda, and Papua New Guinea. Now, she lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and young son, a lover of trains and construction vehicles. They spend their free time riding trains, biking and exploring NYC.
Brian (he/him) serves as the director of communications for Slow Food USA, which means he oversees all digital channels, marketing/PR and storytelling efforts for the national movement. He has spent the last 13 years as a nonprofit marketing and communications leader, most recently as the senior director of communications for AIDS Foundation Chicago and the communications co-chair of Getting to Zero Illinois. Food studies and food justice work have been core elements of Brian's life over the last decade: He is the co-founder of food literary journal Graze, a former board member and board vice president of Chicago's Dill Pickle Food Co-op, and an active member and cofounder of Portage Park Mutual Aid, a mutual exchange network in his neighborhood in Chicago.
A seafood-loving New Orleans native, Colles is the Slow Fish North America network coordinator and a member of the Oversight Team. As network coordinator, he helps direct the network’s strategic planning efforts, long-term growth and advocacy, gatherings, webinars, and messaging. He co-manages the Rising Tide program, which brings seafood with values discussions to Slow Food communities across the country. He also serves on the Slow Food USA Farm and Food Policy Team.
Colles launched the non-profit One Fish Foundation in 2015 to bring the sustainable seafood message into classrooms (from elementary to graduate school) as well as communities. The foundation’s mission: encourage people of all ages to care about where their seafood comes from, how it was harvested or grown, and the benefits of supporting community-based fisheries. He lives and works on the ancestral lands of the Wabanaki people in Yarmouth, Maine.
Dan (she/her or they/them) serves as the Equity, Inclusion and Justice (EIJ) Strategist for Slow Food USA.Dan has been in the nonprofit sector for her entire career, working with over 20 nonprofits and volunteering with both AmeriCorps and the United States Peace Corps. Her degree in Intercultural Communication and desire for cultural exchange has sent her to Belize, Jamaica and Puerto Rico to support grassroots community development initiatives in education, agriculture and sustainability. Dan is currently a graduate student at the University of San Diego, pursuing a Master of Arts in Peace & Justice at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.
Deion (he/him) serves as the Director of Network Engagement forSlow Food USA, which means he leads efforts in network growth, troubleshooting, and providing tools to network leaders and members. Food has been, and continues to be, a passion for Deion throughout his academic and professional endeavors. Both his undergraduate, from Florida Gulf Coast University, and graduate work, from University of Oregon, centered on food, focusing on sustainable sourcing and immigrant identity through food, respectively. Beyond academia, Deion dedicates his time to seeing as many corners of the food realm that he studied, from urban and rural farms and food banks with Feeding America, to public health and one of the best farm-to-table fine dining establishments in the world, Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Gabriela (she/her) is Slow Food USA's programs coordinator, which means she assists the director of programs with all aspects of the programs department, from helping to run meetings to managing timelines of overlapping projects and events. Gabriela is a first-year law student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, where she is pursuing an advanced certificate in both environmental and international law. She hopes to build a career in the food and agricultural sector supporting communities through economic development, international cooperation, and environmental sustainability.
Gabriela spent most of her childhood growing up in Vermont, where she taught snowboarding at Stratton Mountain for seven seasons. She received her undergraduate degree in Political Science and a Paralegal Certificate from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Through Marist’s Freshman Florence Experience, she had the pleasure of studying at the Lorenzo de’Medici Italian International Institute. She also spent a semester studying at American University in Washington, DC through the Washington Semester Program. While in DC, she interned in Representative Sean Patrick Maloney’s office on Capitol Hill. During her undergraduate years, she also worked as a Grant Manager for a local bilingual media network called ABC Latino and spent most summers interning as a Paralegal for an immigration attorney. Upon graduation, she accepted a position at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a foreign policy think tank headquartered in New York City.
In addition to English, Gabriela is fluent in Polish, Spanish, Italian and French.
Mara (she/her) serves as the director of programs for Slow Food USA, which means that she cultivates, develops and hosts nationwide programs and campaigns while coordinating and collaborating with global network leaders.Food production and access has been Mara’s passion for over 30 years as a farmer/chef business owner and community organizer. She volunteered abroad with the United States Peace Corps and US AID working towards village food sovereignty. Mara is based in Vermont and has served on many local boards, most recently the board of Helping And Nurturing Diverse Seniors, connecting seniors to healthy and culturally relevant food. Mara’s 20 year career in farming brought her to Slow Food with the campaign for Biodiversity and the Ark of Taste. She served for 10 years as the Chapter President of Slow Food Vermont and Regional Councilor for Slow Food USA. She currently owns and operates a seasonal food cart celebrating her native American Southwest.
all walks of life. It was a way to support families and the community at large, but also to nourish them every day,” says Jacques Larson, a member of the Slow Food Charleston chapter and Ark of Taste Dinner chef.
Each dinner is prepared by some of Charleston’s best chefs, each tasked with showcasing a different Ark of Taste ingredient from the area in their dish. One dinner assembled chefs from six different states in the southeast, to highlight Ark of Taste ingredients from each of those neighboring states. “We had some beautiful Crowder peas, and we had an Ossabaw hog, and a lot of really cool different foods representative of different parts of the southeast on the table. That was just stunning,” says Carrie.
Besides one great meal, the goal of these dinners is to support and promote ingredients that are fundamental to the food culture of the region and its biodiversity. Chefs source ingredients locally from places like Anson Mills, founded by Glenn Roberts, who has dedicated the historic mill to Carolina Gold Rice and other heirloom grains of the South. Since meeting Carolina Gold Rice for the first time, Jacques Larson has embraced the grain for both its flavor and its place in South Carolina’s history and culture.
While most people recognize the role of cotton in the Antebellum South, many people outside of the region don’t realize rice was king in South Carolina in those days. (Learn much more about this stark but important history in our conversation with Charleston Chef Kevin Mitchell.) Carolina Gold Rice was once South Carolina’s biggest export but, after the Great Depression, Carolina Gold rice lost its prominence to new varieties and became virtually extinct. Jacques reflects that “It gives us all a deeper understanding of where we live and how things evolved. The mission isn’t only to propagate these ingredients more easily attainable and used. Any Ark of Taste ingredient I’ve had, there’s another reason why it’s special.”
Histories like that of Carolina Gold Rice are part and parcel to the Ark of Taste and efforts to preserve these significant ingredients, and the Ark of Taste Dinners educate people about these histories while they’re eating the foods they’re learning about. Carrie says “it’s a really great opportunity to introduce people to new foods. So much care is taken in highlighting the ingredients themselves. They’re not muddled with seasonings and spice where the whole dish might taste kind of the same. One of the biggest focuses is the ingredients — and then the community [and story] surrounding that ingredient.”
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