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New way to save endangered species- eat them


A recent New York times article covers a book that was recently written about endangered (or forgotten about) foods in our country, and how we can save them by creating a consumer demand. They call this 'eater-based conservation.' The book includes cultural history and folk traditions to explain certain food traditions that have been lost in America. His research wasn't done at the University, rather - at the farm. He travelled nation-wide asking farmers about foods that had a strong cultural heritage in their region, but aren't around anymore. The author mentioned that researching for this book difficult because the accounts of these foods weren't in any books, only the farmers' heads.

The author lists 1,080 species of edible, endangered plants and animals that used to be found on American tables. These edibles include anything from dates, to salt grass. But edibility and near extinction aren't the only criteria to be met in order to make 'the list' ; it's cultural heritage in America also carries much weight. The author only includes foods that he knows farmers would benefit from growing because there are a stockpile of recipes because of the strong history of its use.

Slow Food U.S.A. helped by assessing if each food on the list was culturally significant enough to the community from which it originated to be worth promoting.

He breaks the U.S. into 13 different culinary regions, with Minnesota being split between the Bison Nation and Wild Rice Nation. The disappearing foods in the Wild Rice Nation include: American eels, hand-harvested wild rice, and chantecler chicken. The Bison Nation is missing it's silver fox rabbit, hidatsta sunflower, hutterite soup bean, arikara yellow bean, free-range American bison, osage red flint corn, and sibley squash.

The article mentioned that sometimes it is the farmer, not the consumer, that causes the traditional food to be left out of the patch. As farmers are concerned with crossbreeding, innovation, and biological diversity, the traditional foods get squeezed out because they don't think them worthy for the marketplace. This creates a road block in the efforts to revive traditional foods, which is why organizations are giving away seeds of these endangered plants to farmers and gardeners.

Eating something in order to save it may sound like a paradox, but as this revival of traditional food may not be making the harvest more bountiful, it is an attempt to regain a sense of cultural heritage - a very noble cause, nonetheless.

The book is titled, "Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods? and written by Gary Paul Nabhan.