The global food system is becoming increasingly homogenized in a way that’s unhealthy for people and the environment, disconnecting us from our cultural food traditions, and presenting a serious threat to the future of our food supply.
Of the fifty thousand edible plant species in the world, three of them (rice, corn, and wheat) are responsible for over sixty percent of the world’s caloric intake, which leaves us all vulnerable. Rich genetic diversity is crucial to food security. Not only will global climate change necessitate an unpredictable new set of phenotypes, but a shallow gene pool is less able to be resilient in the face of new viruses and pests.
The biodiversity in the United States was once rich but due to the narrow range of plants and animals that suit the needs of industrial agriculture, it is increasingly difficult for biodiverse farmers and producers to grow and find a market for their products.
Read more below about some of the local projects of Slow Food members and chapters:
Meet these heritage hogs and the people who are working to get them off endangered lists and back into the spotlight where they belong.
1. The Red Wattle.
Known for its rusty color and a pair of distinguished, sausage-shaped wattles, this hog’s hardiness and rapid growth rate were not enough to compensate for the fact that its lean, beefy flesh didn’t supply enough fat for early settlers to make lard and soap. As a result, populations declined to the point of warranting an “endangered” listing by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). Work from people like Slow Food St. Louis co-leader Bill Burge and the Red Wattle Project shows how preserving heritage hogs can be put into practice.
2. The Guinea.
The diminutive Guinea hog weighs in at 100 pounds on a good day, but don’t be fooled by its small frame—this pig has an astonishing amount of fat. That fat is great for making artisanal charcuterie, but prevented the Guinea from being valuable to mass markets. That makes it a perfect project for Slow Food Charleston, who has made a point of featuring the Guinea hog at a number of events with the help of farmer Gra Moore and Chef Craig Diehl. Chef Diehl documents his experience butchering, curing and cooking the Guinea on a blog that clearly demonstrates the value of the Guinea. ALBC Research & Technical Programs Manager, Jeannette Beranger emphasizes, “a connection to place is essential when trying to repopulate an endangered breed and Charleston is at the heart of the breed’s historical location.”
3. The Ossabaw
While all of the heritage hogs successfully adapted to their surroundings and climate, none did it so well as the Ossabaw Island hog. The closest genetic representative of Spanish hogs, the Ossabaw actually became smaller and heavily marbled with fat to cope with the limited food on Southern Georgia’s Ossawbaw Island. Today, the Ossabaw is protected from direct export from the island itself, but the breed lives on at farms like Maveric Heritage Ranch, run by long time Slow Food supporter and leader, Arie McFarlen who raises other hogs, like the uniquely solid-hoofed Mulefoot hog.
The thick golden ooze that fills the contours of plastic bear-shaped bottles on supermarket shelves may not inspire you to use language like “delicate,” “buttery” or “floral.” It may seem like just another condiment to drizzle on toast or squeeze into tea, but there are a few honeys out there that are more than just sweet. Meet the line-up of very diverse (and very delicious) honeys found on the U.S. Ark of Taste.
1. Gallberry Honey
The plant: an evergreen holly bush called “inkberry”
The taste: rich, thick, aromatic—especially known for honeycomb
The surprise: high in pollen and enzymes, this honey is slow to crystallize and never granulated
The threat: development of wetlands along the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast combined with the challenge of restricting bees to inkberry plants makes for increasingly difficult conditions
2. Guajillo Honey
The plant: a wild desert bush called Guajillo or Huajilla
The taste: light, mild, and floral with notes of lavendar
The surprise: in 1900, Uvalde County produced 161,800 pounds of Guajillo honey
The threat: more than just honey, this crystal white substance was a key factor in the pioneer-era success of Uvalde County.
3. White Kiawe Honey of Hawaii
The plant: a type of mesquite tree, called the Kiawe
The taste: a peculiar menthol-like flavor with a smooth caramel texture
The surprise: Kiawe honey of Hawaii comes from a single 1,000 acre stand of trees that is ninety-nine percent pure mono-flower.
The threat: the labor is intensive and an existing golf-course permit for the forest looms ominously in the future.
4. Sourwood Honey
The plant: a tree by many names: sourwood, sorrel, and lily of the valley
The taste: gingerbread with hints of baking spices and anise and a texture like butter
The surprise: so rare, batches sometimes surface once every decade
The threat: the already short and hard-to-access sourwood tree is becoming increasingly rare in the southern states it calls home
5. Tupelo Honey
The plant: a water-loving tree called the Ogeechee tupelo
The taste: mild and delicate like cotton candy and rosewater
The surprise: beekeepers often house their bees on floating docks or boats in order to access the fickle tupelo blossoms
The threat: a powerful mix of short harvest time, laborious harvest, insecticides, development and imports