If I had to sum up Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods (Chelsea Green Publishing, $35) in one sentence it would be, “Everything old is new again.”
Gary Paul Nabhan, PhD maybe America’s premiere Locavore. He spent years helping to compile lists of America’s endangered food products. He asks, “Do we put pretty pictures of these edibles in a museum so we can look at them?” His answer, No! We preserve foods, tastes, cultures by what Slow Food calls “eater-based conservation”. Mr. Nabhan has said that isn’t just about the genetics, “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 collaborative (RAFT) is a consortium organized through Slow Food USA in conjunction with the heavy hitters of the sustainability movement: the Center for Sustainable Environments, Seed Savers Exchange, Cultural Conservancy, Chefs Collaborative, Native Seeds/SEARCH and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Their goal is to recognize the urgent need to maintain the incredible food diversity of North America because of the important ecological, culinary, cultural, and health benefits of biodiversity.
The book is broken up into what Mr. Nabhan calls the 13 Food Nations of North America. An “imaginative tool to help us all think about the relationships among food, place, and culture. By naming each ecoregion for a traditional food that has served as an ecological and cultural keystone there for centuries…” Interspersed throughout the chapters are interesting recipes, some simple, some challenging, and further readings of 93 of the over 1000 ingredients that need saving – from the endangered Magnun Bonum Apple to the Buckeye Chicken.
The chapters are concise and informative in their narrative yet encyclopedic in their number. The only real problem is that there is both too much information and not enough, all at the same time. As the Midwest Book review put it, “RAFT is as educational as it is delicious”
Not everything is meant to be eaten. Some wild-animals like the Carolina flying squirrel are too rare and endangered even if they were once widely eaten. The ultimate goal however is to get farmers, ranchers and artisans to produce these foodstuffs and get consumers and chefs to use and eat them.