LocalHarvest Newsletter, November 22, 2017|
One Size Does Not Fit All
Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.
As I am sitting here snacking on some roasted pecans, niçoise olives, extra sharp cheddar cheese, and red pepper slices, I am thinking about all the foods of this vast, vast world. It is at once truly amazing what this planet provides, and truly abhorrent what we are doing to that diversity. It’s as if Homo sapiens have a death wish of turning planet Earth into a wasteland that is not fit for other species nor our own.
Just take these facts: Seventy-five percent of crop diversity has been lost in the last 100 years (mostly cultivars and landraces). Thirty percent of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction. Our diets around the world are looking more and more alike, with less and less of the unique and native foods being offered anymore. The Western diet, prevalent with starchy, calorie-dense processed foods, high in sugar and salt, and full of trans-fats is becoming more common in far-flung places, with its resulting health problems that come along for the ride.
Take this other fact. While it may seem like an isolated one, it is emblematic of the whole food supply. Ninety-six percent of the bananas we consume in this country come from one genetically identical clone of banana- the Cavendish, despite there being hundreds of cultivars. When along comes a banana disease, such as Fusarium, it could wipe out the monocultures of Cavendish clones, as it once did to the Gros Michel cultivar in the 1950s. Diseases cannot thrive amongst diversity. Standardization of our food supply reduces diversity, complexity, and the resilience of species. We also loose the cultural connections to our food that preserve language, song, story, and skill.
An attempt to save these unique and endangered food emerged from the Slow Food movement in 1996, called the Ark of Taste. Much like the mythical Noah’s Ark, the Ark of Taste seeks to save these species and foods from the rising tide of homogeneity, habitat loss, genetic diversity reductions, and loss of cultures. Since the founding of this program, the Ark of Taste has catalogued over 3,500 foods from over 150 countries. The United States has contributed more than 200 to the Ark. To get "boarded" on the Ark, a food must be endangered, taste good, be produced cleanly (can be grown without harm to environment, not genetically engineered) and fair (not trademarked, not produced with slave labor).
This Ark is virtual- there is no vast storehouse holding all the rare animals, seeds, or food products like a time capsule. But the farmers, ranchers, and food artisans cultivating and creating these foods are very much real. Local Harvest has partnered with Slow Food USA to highlight all of the producers on our website that are keeping Ark of Taste foods alive.
What inspires farmers and ranchers to raise and produce rare, heritage breeds of crops and livestock? Mickey Willenbring of Dot Ranch in Scio, Oregon appreciates the lively personalities and thriftiness of rare breeds of livestock and poultry such as the Navajo-Churro sheep and Muscovy duck that she raises. She remarked, "I grew up surrounded by commercial modern breeds and really didn’t enjoy their placid personalities. Heritage breeds have character, personality, and a challenge to them that makes me feel more connected to them and to the moment. They demand your full attention, and for a vet with PTSD, that demand is crucial to stay engaged with the here and now. Each breed at my ranch was selected for their cultural and historical significance as well as their adaptability and resilience to a primitive environment (aka the shoestring budget ranch). Heritage breeds were developed when most labor was still accomplished manually, which means they are still very self-sufficient on their own merits."
Evan Gregoire of Portland Seedhouse is inspired by the flavors and resilience of the heirloom vegetables that he grows and sells the seeds of. He says, "Seeing diversity disappear is tragic in many senses. The loss means we lose genetics we need for climate change not to mention we lose flavor, flavors our grandparents cherished and survived by." He spends a great deal of his time educating other growers and consumers about how to grow and cook these crops, "Education is key, people love new things so making the old new again is key. Look at fashion, mom jeans are back." Editors note: I for one hope that "mom jeans" do not come back into fashion.
The best way to keep a unique food or breed alive is to buy it and consume it on a regular basis. If there is no demand for Hidatsa Shield Figure Bean, it may still exist in small homegarden populations, but it will not be grown in large enough populations to keep its own genes diverse. If there is nobody eating Florida Cracker Cattle, their herds will get smaller and more inbred, until disease and reproductive decline eventually cause it go extinct. We cannot rely on the generous souls who grow crops, raise animals, or make foods for personal use only or as a hobby. When all is said and done, other than subsistence producers, everyone else needs to at least breakeven on their enterprises. They need to sell these unique foods. LocalHarvest can help you find them through our online store and on our producer listings.
The interplay of humans and their natural environment in the form of agriculture and food is a sacred connection. You can honor the cultural knowledge, the hard physical work, and the outstanding flavors by supporting those cultivating Ark of Taste foods.
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