Slow Food's Ark of Taste Saves Endangered Flavors


What does endangered taste like? How about a sweet, tart, aromatic Blenheim apricot? Or perhaps the creamiest avocado that’s ever passed your lips? What does endangered look like? Picture a strutting Bourbon Red Turkey with deep red feathers and black, cream, and mahogany markings.

Do you ever wonder why there is only one main type of banana in the store? Or one kind of garlic? Since the middle of the last century, as food production has consolidated, foods have been bred more for uniformity, predictability, and easy transport than for taste. Gone are the more spunky breeds of chickens, the fatty, flavorful breeds of pig, and the juicy, sweet, perfect fruits that may bruise or crush easily.

In the United States we’ve lost 93% of our food diversity in the past century. 30,000 vegetable varieties have been wiped out. And this is a worldwide problem. As food transport globalizes, other places around the globe are losing their diversity. And this isn’t just about the economics of food production. Climate change is part of the problem. Right now Peruvian farmers are fighting to save thousands of varieties of potatoes due to changes in growing conditions caused by climate change.

When we lose food diversity, we lose beloved tastes and important elements of our food culture. If that’s not enough for you, think about the Irish Potato Famine. The famine was caused because only two varieties of potato were planted in Ireland, both vulnerable to blight. With climate change affecting growing conditions in unpredictable ways around the globe, people are left vulnerable to major disruptions in our food supply. Think of biological diversity as insurance.

What do industrious humans do when faced with such a crisis?

Build an ark. The Slow Food Ark of Taste preserves agricultural diversity and gastronomic traditions by cataloging and introducing its membership and the larger public to animal breeds, fruit and vegetables, cured meats, cheese, cereals, pastas, cakes, and confectionery that are in danger of extinction.

By introducing these tastes to the public through the Slow Foods membership, and celebrating the producers who carry on in the face of crushing conformity, Slow Food hopes to save them.

We can all play a part in the effort. Visit your local farmers’ markets and buy a variety of fruit or vegetable you’ve never tasted. Take a look at the list on the Ark and see if you might be able to find some of the products in your local area. It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes in order to save something you first have to eat it.

Image: karimian

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.