What do donkey salami, Ligurian bee honey, the Teltow turnip and the Chilean white strawberry have in common? They are all foods that have been classified as endangered. If you think this is a strange list, there’s much more where it came from. In order to feast your eyes upon a plethora of endangered foods, climb aboard the Ark of Taste.
This is not your typical ark made for escaping floods, but a metaphorical ark created to preserve tastes in danger of disappearing from memory. Created in 1996 by the organization known as Slow Food, the Ark of Taste is a continually updated list of fruits, vegetables, meats, grains and dishes from all over the world that are considered “in danger of extinction.”
In line with Slow Food’s philosphy of taking pride in good, environmentally friendly food and the communities that produce them, the Ark of Taste focuses on bringing attention to heritage and heirloom foods that are sustainably produced. In this way, the Ark of Taste aims to preserve historic culinary practices specific to certain regions, whether it’s growing a type of vegetable or preparing a dish.
As the name of the project implies, rescue is in order, but not only from natural disasters. Industrial farming, mass food production and fast food dining are all cited as factors in the decline of certain traditional ingredients, dishes and strangely named fruits like “Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry.” Luckily, the US has its own Ark of Taste site to remind us that Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry is an heirloom tomato that grows in the ground and tastes like vanilla and pineapple.
The Ark of Taste gets such lovingly detailed descriptions from sources ranging from farmers to producers to restaurants, with the source listed below each description. Additionally, anyone can nominate a food to be included on the list, but foods must meet specific criteria in order to be considered. According to the website, foods must be, “Outstanding in taste; At risk biologically or as culinary traditions; Sustainably produced; Culturally or historically produced; and Produced in limited quantities.” Nominated foods are then assessed by a panel of judges, sort of like a culinary American Idol.
Ultimately, the Ark of Taste actively promotes biodiversity by encouraging growing, consuming and cooking with (in order to make people want to sustain them) endangered foods. According to Emily Vaughn, Associate Manager of Campaigns and Projects for Slow Food USA, “Since 1900, 97 percent of the plant species on the planet have ceased to exist…[this] puts us in a perilous position in terms of our ability to rebound from a plant or animal disease, and climate change. Slow Food members are taking matters into their own hands by keeping remaining foods alive.” At a time when fears of food shortages are on the rise (check out the recent surge of articles encouraging the consumption of bugs as a way to avoid food shortages), this is something to consider. I’d eat a Teltow turnip over a grasshopper any day.