Slow Food was founded in Europe, and to Europeans “local” means something different than what it means here. Local food is food that’s indigenous to a region, food that formed the basis of its cuisine. German cuisine emphasizes the game that can be found in German forests; Italian amari are flavored by the herbs and roots that grow around the villages that produce them; Burgundian winemakers grow Pinot Noir grapes because, historically, Pinot Noir is what grows well in Burgundy. Because the American food system has become so industrial and homogenized, we don’t think of local food in that way: to Americans, local pork is local because the person who raised the pig lives nearby, not because the breed of pig is indigenous to the region or thrives there.
The European sense of “local” is the idea that drives the Ark of Taste, Slow Food’s heritage food catalog. The foods that it contains are part of America’s regional food traditions, but due to the homogenizing influence of industrialization, they are in danger of becoming extinct. If you live in Ohio, you’re sure to be familiar with the Cavendish banana, the standard yellow fruit in every supermarket. You’ve probably never tried a pawpaw, though, despite the fact that they’re native to our region.
This year’s Terra Madre Day, December 10, is focused on bringing attention to the Ark of Taste. The attention is overdue. The local-food movement in the US is a welcome development: it focuses attention on the small farms and local farmers who form the backbone of the sustainable food movement. At the same time, as the widely-mocked “Local Lays” potato chip brand demonstrates, the local label can be easily co-opted by industrial producers who want to add a veneer of sustainability to their marketing campaigns.
So if you’re a consumer, seek out an Ark of Taste product, try it, and learn a little bit about its history. Jeni’s Ice Creams has a new flavor, Torrone, that features an Ark of Taste ingredient, Tupelo honey. Chris Chmiel at Integration Acres carries pawpaw products, many of which can be found at the cheese shop at the North Market. Neal Perin, a hog farmer near Athens, raises Red Wattle hogs, which are often featured on the menu at Skillet Rustic Urban Food. Many specialty grocers carry Ala’ea sea salt. Wayward Seed Farm has grown a wide range of Ark of Taste vegetables for years, and City Folk’s Farm Shop in Clintonville sells Ark of Taste seeds. If you’re a farmer or a chef, we hope you’ll nominate more Central Ohio food products to the Ark. If you’re a potential delegate to Terra Madre 2014, we hope you’ll consider applying next year.
And regardless of who you are, please, join us in celebrating local food from all around the world.