Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying Pepper greening up nicely in the greenhouse. These are great frozen.
“No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.” –Lily Tomlin
For my birthday recently I received a copy of Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by Gary Paul Nabhan and with a forward by my hero Deborah Madison. This book (as you can imagine) is right up my alley. Nabhan founded Native SeedSearch. He’s an ethnobotanist who happens to be a kooky single-minded food enthusiast. I read his Coming Home to Eat a couple of years back and truly enjoyed it: it makes the nice idea of eating locally in the verdant hills of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle look like the child’s play it is compared with local eating in the desert southwest of this country.
The premise of this book is to do what Slow Foods has done: instead of presidia, it divides North America (actually, just most of the US) up into small territories (nations) known by what Native Americans and early settlers would have cultivated, foraged and hunted. Traditional foods, in other words. My particular corner of Michigan has a foot in three such territories: the Wild Rice Nation, the Cornbread Nation and the Maple Syrup Nation. (I like that, that where I live is transitory, is between zones.) The book features once common, now rare plants and animals from each featured zone, and why it is in our best interest to preserve them. By preserving, of course, Nabhan means EATING them.
Carolina northern flying squirrel, anyone?
By teaming up with revered seed-saving institutions and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, this book gives little vignettes about disappearing flora and fauna. I think the stories behind each item are fascinating. Take the Northern Giant (McFayden) cabbage, for instance. Or the mulefoot hog. Or the Quahog clam.
Anyway, back to the cynicism of which I have in abundance. I am not one to believe capitalism is a cure to all that ails us: that we can, say, buy our way out of global warming by purchasing a solar panel or two, a hybrid car, a few canvas shopping bags. As you may know by now, I think we’re all quickly approaching the shores of an entirely different world. The index and bibliography in this book are stellar. The RAFT List of Foods at Risk in North America is a large one, 700 items and counting, listed with T (threatened), E (Endangered) or X (Functionally extinct). Currently, I do seed-save some of the threatened and endangered vegetables, and I intend to breed a few crucial animals over the next few years. My cynicism comes in (and again, it’s hard to keep up!) when everyone just HAS TO HAVE x cool endangered item. Is creating a market for them a good thing? I suppose if it brings something back from the brink of extinction, it is.
Either way, it’s nice that some people give a damn.