Endangered Eating: America's Vanishing Foods
“a fascinating journey, and the recipes included help connect readers even more with the foods that Lohman chronicles . . .”
“I had always thought of American cuisine as ever expanding to include new foods,” writes Sarah Lohman in the introduction to her book Endangered Eating. “But after scrolling through the entries on the United States Ark of Taste, I realize there are hundreds of plants, animals, and food traditions that are disappearing from my country's repertoire. Over the course of a year, I traced a selection of Ark of Taste entries to their homes, following the seasons of their harvest. I met the farmers, shepherds, fishers, and makers who produce these rare foods and who have invested their lives—and finances—into these products of growth. Frequently these ingredients are keys to the identity of the cultures that come from, representing a deep, spiritual connection between humanity and the earth. But often on my journey, I discovered that the path to saving these ingredients wasn't clear cut nor was the question of who should have access to their ingredients—and at what price.”
The Ark of Taste is a catalog of ingredients curated by Slow Food International determined to be both in danger of extinction and worthy of being preserved. Endangered food is defined as that which is only available in limited quantities and will not be around in another generation or two if immediate action isn’t taken.
In researching her book, Lohman, the author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine and former curator of Food Programming at The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, traveled the U.S. to learn more about vanishing foods. It’s a journey that took her to Coachella Valley in Southern California where over 90% of the dates we consume in this country have been grown for more than 120 years. Most of these are Medjool and Deglet, but a few growers are raising rarer types including Empress, Abada, Blonde Beauties, and Triumph that are on the Ark of Taste list. Lohman describes her first bite of an Empress as melting in her mouth, releasing tastes of sweet spice and caramel, followed by a fresh fruitiness at the end. She also shares a recipe for Date Nut Bread adapted from Chock Full o’Nuts in her book.
Another stop was in Shiprock, New Mexico, less than 40 miles from Four Corners where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah converge and where the annual Sheep Is Life Festiva was being held in what is Navajo country. Lohman had volunteered to assist in a traditional foods demo. In this case, it was the butchering of a whole animal, a first for her. Again, we get a recipe. This one is for Navajo-Churro Lamb Posole, a traditional Mexican soup made with meat, hominy, vegetables, and red chilies from a broth made from mutton bones and comes from the Turquoise Room at the La Posada, a restored Harvey House hotel in Winslow, Arizona.
In all, we visit so many fascinating places and learn about their foods such as Hawaii’s legacy sugarcane; Heirloom Apple Cider in Walden, New York, an old-agricultural town in the Hudson Valley that was part of New Amsterdam’s Dutch colony; and Manoomin, an aquatic wild rice harvested by Ojibwe near the remote southern shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
It’s a fascinating journey, and the recipes included help connect readers even more with the foods that Lohman chronicles like the Sand-Roasted Peanuts grown in the Carolinas, File Gumbo from Acadiana, and Roast Salmon on Sticks from the American Northwest. It’s a trip worth taking whether it’s in literally following Rohman’s steps or in reading her book, which was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, a Food and Wine Best Book of 2023, and an Eater Best Book of Fall 2023.