Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods by Gary Paul Nabhan

I took a break this morning to read NYTimes.com and just heard about yet another book that I simply must read:

Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods by Gary Paul Nabhan

The April 30, 2008 NYTimes article featuring this book is “To Save a Species, Serve It for Dinner” by Kim Severson.

Over the past four years, Gary Paul Nabhan has complied a list of 1,080+ endangered plants and animals that were once fairly commonplace in American kitchens but are now threatened, endangered or essentially extinct in the marketplace. To save them, he urges people to eat them and engages nursery owners, farmers, breeders and chefs to grow and use them.

The book tells the stories of 93 ingredients and recipes to cook them. The ingredients are organized into thirteen culinary regions (or “nations”) such as:

  • Acorn Nation – the Pacific Coast from California to northern Mexico
  • Chestnut Nation – northern Georgia through West Virginia
  • Chili Pepper Nation – Southern Arizona & New Mexico into northern Mexico
  • Clambake Nation – New England coast
  • Crab Cake Nation – mid-Atlantic down to Florida coast
  • Gumbo Nation – Gulf coast
  • Moose Nation – most of Canada
  • Salmon Nation – Pacific Northwest + Alaska
  • Wild Rice Nation – Great Lakes region

Nabhan worked with seven culinary, environmental and conservation groups to help identify items for the list such as: Slow Food U.S.A., the Seed Savers Exchange, the Cultural Conservancy, and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

In addition, Nabhan is also working with the Chefs Collaborative, a group of more than 1,000 professional cooks and others dedicated to sustainable cuisine.

Unbelievably, one in fifteen wild edible plants and animal species are at risk!

And in case you’re curious, here are some of the endangered animals and plants in the book:

  • American Eels of Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence Rivers (Wild-Rice Nation)
  • Arikara yellow bean (Bison Nation)
  • Berry berry American cranberry (Clambake Nation)
  • Black Sphinx date (Chili Pepper Nation)
  • Boston marrow squash (Clambake Nation)
  • Bronx seedless grape (Clambake Nation)
  • Buckeye chicken (Maple Syrup Nation)
  • Cayuga Duck (Maple Syrup Nation)
  • Centennial pecan (Gumbo Nation)
  • Chapalote popcorn (Chili Pepper Nation) – among America’s top 10 endangered foods
  • Chicasaw plum (Corn Bread Nation)
  • Choppee okra (Crab Cake Nation)
  • Cotton Patch goose (Gumbo Nation)
  • Death Valley devil claw (unicorn plant) (Pinon Nut Nation)
  • Early Golden persimmon (Corn Bread Nation)
  • Eulachon smelt (Salmon Nation) – among America’s top 10 endangered foods
  • Fish pepper (Crab Cake Nation)
  • Gaspe flint corn (Clambake Nation)
  • Gilette Fig (Salmon Nation)
  • Goliath grouper (Gumbo Nation)
  • Guinea Hog (Chestnut Nation)
  • Gulf Coast native sheep (Gumbo Nation) – among America’s top 10 endangered foods
  • Hand-harvested wild rice (Manoomin) (Wild Rice Nation)
  • Hidatsa sunflower (Bison Nation) – among America’s top 10 endangered foods
  • Jack’s copperclad Jerusalem artichokes (Chestnut Nation)
  • Java chicken (Maple Syrup Nation) – among America’s top 10 endangered foods
  • Makah Ozette Potato (Salmon Nation)
  • Meech Prolific quince (Clambake Nation)
  • Milking Devon cattle (Clambake Nation)
  • Nevada single-leaf pinon nut (Pinon Nut Nation)
  • Northern Giant (McFayden) cabbage (Moose Nation)
  • Ny’pa, Palmer’s salt grass (Chili Pepper Nation)
  • Oldmixon free (clearstone) peach (Maple Syrup Nation)
  • Osage red flint corn (Bison Nation)
  • Ossabaw Island Hog (Crab Cake Nation)
  • Paiute (speckled) tepary bean (Pinon Nut Nation)
  • Pineywoods cattle (Gumbo Nation) – among America’s top 10 endangered foods
  • Rubel northern highbush blueberry (Clambake Nation)
  • Quahogs of Great South Bay (Clambake Nation)
  • Santo Domingo casaba melon (Chili Pepper Nation)
  • Sassafrass Leaves (Gumbo Nation)
  • Seminole pumpkin (Gumbo Nation) – among America’s top 10 endangered foods
  • Short and Thick parsnip (Moose Nation)
  • Sierra Beauty apples (Acorn Nation)
  • Silver Fox rabbit (Bison Nation)
  • Sonoran white pomegranate (Chili Pepper Nation)
  • Sonoran pronghorn antelope (Chili Pepper Nation)
  • Tennessee Fainting Goat (Corn Bread Nation)
  • White abalone (Acorn Nation) – among America’s top 10 endangered foods
  • White maypop passion fruit (Crab Cake Nation)
  • Wild tomatillo of the Continental Divide (Chili Pepper Nation)
  • Zimmerman pawpaw (Crab Cake Nation)

And one last thing, not everything in this book is to be eaten. Some wild-animals (like the Carolina flying squirrel) are too rare and endangered to be eaten these days, even if they were once widely eaten.

Interestingly, Renewing America’s Food Traditions goes along with the other books I’m reading for Baltimore Green Week; all books about living a more sustainable lifestyle, particularly in terms of what we eat.

I love food and trying new foods so I will certainly do my part in helping to preserve these animals and plants by ordering them at restaurants when available. Unfortunately, Baltimore isn’t exactly a sophisticated culinary town…

Click here to view several PDF samples and click here to view the Table of Contents, both from the publisher’s website.

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5 responses to “Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods by Gary Paul Nabhan

  1. toujoursjacques

    Wonderful post! This book sounds like just my cup of tea. I read his “Coming home to eat” which was very good also, but a much different sort of book than this. I’m excited to find it! I’ve also read all the books on your Baltimore Green Week post. I especially enjoy Michael Pollan’s work. Thanks for a great and informative book site! I’ll be back! TJ
    ( tjacques.wordpress.com )

  2. Thank you for the kind words! You mentioned reading Nabhan’s other book “Coming home to eat” . . . what’s that one about?

  3. toujoursjacques

    It’s about eating locally…maybe a little like the 100-mile diet, but with more depth, spirituality, and science behind it. He tried to eat only things available within 250 miles and focus on restoring food traditions in his watershed, Arizona in the SW, which was pretty interesting because on first blush you wouldn’t think much grows there except cacti. I enjoyed it.

  4. Pingback: Renewing America’s Food Traditions « Adventures in Reading

  5. Pingback: Renewing America’s Food Traditions - Slow Food Ark of Taste « Adventures in Reading

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