Renewing America's Food Traditions

A search for forgotten delicacies.

There is much to be accomplished and we are hoping to engage others in the adventure to find, recover and celebrate these culinary rarities. With some 669 food varieties now considered to be endangered, and another 348 threatened, we need help to keep them from joining the 76 uniquely American foods that have already been lost from our tables through extinction.

For wild foods, this effort involves the hands-on work of restoring natural habitats, reducing threats to them, and using nursery or hatchery stock to re-establish populations in the wild. For domesticated foods, we need to enlist hundreds of “food sleuths” in searching for rarities in abandoned orchards, roadside stands and small cafés off the beaten path.

America’s backroads, ethnic barrios, and home-grown dooryard gardens: That’s where many of the cultivated heirloom fruits and vegetables are likely to have survived; often nursed by Cajun, Cracker, Gullah, Amish, Mennonite, Bonacker, Tidewater, Amana or Cherokee gardeners, orchard-keepers and fishers.

And of course, we hope that you seek out heritage and heirloom foods as they start to reappear at farmers’ markets across the country. If you can, plant a handful of heirloom seeds in your garden, stick a few cuttings in your orchard or nurture a dozen rare laying hens in your chicken coop.
This is conservation with a human face. Put down your magazine, walk outside, and begin your own search for the foods which link your own sense of place to a deep and lasting sense of taste.

Gary Paul Nabhan is the author of Coming Home to Eat (W.W. Norton, 2002) and editor of Renewing America’s Food Traditions.

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