NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 2, 2008

Gary Paul Nabhan has spent most of the past four years compiling a list of endangered plants and animals that were once fairly commonplace in American kitchens but are now threatened, endangered or essentially extinct in the marketplace.  He has set out to save them, which often involves urging people to eat them.

Nabhan engaged seven culinary, environmental and conservation groups to help him identify items for the list and return them to culinary rotation.  Then, leveraging the rising interest in regional food, he convinced hundreds of chefs, farmers and curious eaters to grow and cook some of the lost breeds and varieties.

Some of the items on the list, like Ojai pixie tangerines and Sonoma County Gravenstein apples, were well on their way back before Nabhan came along.  But other foods are enjoying a renaissance largely as a result of the coalition's work:

  • The Makah ozette potato was adopted by the Seattle chapters of Slow Food and the Chefs Collaborative, and it has been passed out to local growers and been out on the menu of local restaurants.
  • There have been other revivals, the moon and stars watermelon and the tepary bean among them.
  • The meaty Buckeye chicken, with its long legs suitable for ranging around, is considered one of five most endangered chicken breeds; last year over 1,000 chicks were hatched and delivered to breeders, says Nabhan.
  • The coalition is credited with saving Pineywoods breeding cattle, which fell to under 200; in the past few years, it has grown to nearly 1,000.

The most complicated part of reviving traditional food, says Makalé Faber Cullen, a cultural anthropologist with Slow Food U.S.A., is that farmers are often more concerned with innovating and crossbreeding than in preserving cultural traditions or encouraging biological diversity.

Source: Kim Severson, "To Save a Species, Serve It for Dinner," New York Times, April 30, 2008.

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