BROOKLYN, New York – Sept. 29, 2009 – The Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, a catalog of delicious foods in danger of extinction, has just been expanded to include twelve new food products, nominated by farmers, growers, chefs and food enthusiasts from across the country who are concerned about the diversity of our food supply.
Slow Food USA’s biodiversity committee convened in Portsmouth, N.H., to evaluate, taste and vote on each nomination. The committee was tasked with assessing whether or not each nomination met the Ark of Taste criteria. To be “boarded” onto the US Ark of Taste, a food must: (1) be at risk biologically or as a cultural tradition, (2) be linked culturally or historically to a specific region, ethnicity or traditional production practice, (3) have outstanding taste, defined in the context of local traditions and uses, and (4) have sustainable market potential.
Ark of Taste foods are those that have been threatened by market standardization, industrial agriculture, and environmental damage. “This is not only about food diversity but food security,” explains Jenny Trotter, associate director of Slow Food USA’s biodiversity program. Seventy-five percent of the world’s food now comes from only seven main crops, and from increasingly fewer varieties of those crops—ones that have been selected to produce not the most nutritious or delicious food, but those best suited to large-scale production and distribution methods.
This is also true for livestock breeds: 99 percent of turkeys eaten in American come from a single breed and 75 percent of pigs come from just three breeds. “Yet we will need many different kinds of fruits and vegetables growing in our fields and many livestock breeds on our farms if we are going to be resilient in the face of climate change,” continues Trotter.
Slow Food USA and its partners in the Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance are promoting the new concept of eater-based conservation. “We don’t want to preserve foods as museum pieces or only conserve the genetic diversity of our food supply,” said Slow Food USA’s biodiversity committee chair Ben Watson. “We want to get these foods back onto farms, back into the marketplace and back onto people’s tables.”
Twelve food products were selected for the Ark of Taste, including:
• ‘Turkey’ Hard Red Winter Wheat. Originally brought to Kansas in the 1870s by Mennonite immigrants from Crimea, this unique and complexly flavored variety became the primary wheat produced in the Central Plains. But today it is almost extinct, having been replaced by modern, higher-yielding varieties. A small group of farmers in Kansas started a wheat revival project to bring this delicious wheat back to the marketplace.
• Lake Michigan Whitefish. Once the center of the Door Peninsula and Washington Island, Wisconsin economy, this fish is not often found on Wisconsin restaurant menus today, having been replaced by farmed salmon, Icelandic cod and other imported “exotic” fish. Yet this sweet, delicately flavored fish is a cultural icon for the area, traditionally smoked or featured in the fish boil, a large community event that began on Washington Island. Seventy years ago, 600 people on the island were directly employed by the fishing trade. Today, the island is home to only two families, two boats and three commercial fisherman involved in fishing whitefish, all with second jobs. Slow Food USA members in Wisconsin are supporting the local fishing community and reengaging people in this important and delicious tradition.
• Hauer Pippin Apple. During its heyday, this spicy and sweet-tasting, versatile apple was planted throughout Santa Cruz County, California and earned the nickname “Christmas Apple” because it ripened in late November and its flavor improved after a few weeks in storage. Though popular with orchardists and consumers, it lost its competitive advantage to
earlier-maturing varieties when apple storage technology improved. By 2001 there were only three commercial nurseries selling it. Today, with the help of the Slow Food USA chapter in Monterey Bay, farmers are starting to plant the trees again in Santa Cruz County and the apple is making a comeback.
New Ark of Taste foods also include: Canada Crookneck squash (New England), Burford pear (Virginia), Granite Beauty apple (New Hampshire), Newtown Pippin apple (New York), Harrison cider apple (New Jersey), Sierra Beauty apple (California), White Sonora wheat (California and Arizona), Pantin mamey sapote (Florida) and St. Croix sheep (US Virgin Islands).
Slow Food USA encourages people to seek out these foods, but more importantly to start local initiatives to recover and champion them. Slow Food chapters spread the word about rare varieties by hosting tastings and seed swaps, encouraging farmers and gardeners to grow endangered seeds and breeds, and persuading chefs to feature them on their menus.
“By promoting Ark of Taste products, Slow Food USA helps ensure these foods remain in production and on our plates,” explains committee member Glenn Roberts, a South Carolina farmer, seedsman and miller of endangered grains. “This is about defending the delicious diversity of our food supply and supporting the farmers, ranchers, fishers and foragers who are keeping these foods and food traditions alive.”
Ark of Taste nominations are reviewed at the committee’s annual meeting each fall and throughout the year via committee conference calls. Anyone can download the nomination form from the Slow Food USA web site and nominate a unique, endangered food from their region. The Slow Food USA web site tells the story of every Ark of Taste food—its description, history, flavor, and how to source it. Each profile is linked to LocalHarvest.org, which lists producers around the country who grow and sell that food.
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