The Ark of Taste: Eating Well to Save Species

Joining good food with sustainability is one organization’s recipe for saving America’s food traditions.

By Aaron Kagan

Slow Food International reminds us it is possible to consume a resource – happily, along with a glass of wine – without exhausting it. 

Sustainability is one of the organization’s chief goals, and one of its more colorful ways of promoting that goal is the Ark of Taste. The Ark is a list of endangered foods from around the world that Slow Food recommends eating in order to save: increased awareness paired with sustainable production can ensure foods such as White Sonora Wheat or Creole Cream Cheese exist in perpetuity instead of going the way of the passenger pigeon.

The U.S. has its own version of the Ark, and in keeping with the theme of nautical rescue vehicles we also have RAFT, which stands for Renewing America’s Food Traditions.

RAFT, a Slow Food affiliate, is composed of several smaller organizations including Chef’s Collaborative, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Native Seed/SEARCH, the Center for Sustainable Environments, Seed Savers Exchange and Cultural Conservancy. RAFT’s goal is to identify and promote endangered North American foods that few of us are familiar with, such as the Black Sphinx date or El Guique New Mexican Chile Pepper.

Saving endangered foods might sound like the punch line to a joke about arugula-loving bleeding heart liberals, but RAFT connects such foods with the power to reduce carbon footprints, unite communities, better our health and preserve distinct, regional cultures. When the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster occurred, RAFT was quick to assemble a publication assessing how the disaster would affect local food industries and therefore locals themselves. Their text, “Food Producers and their Place-based Foods at Risk in the Gulf Coast,” is available as a free download via the RAFT website.  

RAFT has also published booklets pertaining to at risk, place-based foods from Appalachia, the Great Lakes, New England, California and other U.S. regions. The program led to the creation of the book, Savoring and Saving the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by Gary Paul Nabhan, and hosts events like the annual Grow-Out, a collaboration between New England seed savers, farmers and chefs to grow, cook and promote heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Many of these breeds are specialized to deal with specific terrain rather than being bred to survive long ocean voyages and look pretty on a supermarket shelf. Due to their highly specific traits, these plants and animals may provide clues for adapting to a climate in flux. As global weirding strikes, we may need weird foods to cope, and is there anything weirder than the Tennessee fainting goat?

About Aaron Kagan

Aaron Kagan is a freelance food writer whose work regularly appears in the Boston Globe among other publications. He has also written for Meatpaper, has two articles forthcoming on and has just had his first play accepted by the Boston Theater Marathon. He blogs at Tea and Food and lives with his wife and dog in Northampton, MA.

Talkback Readers: Have you tried any of the foods on RAFT’s U.S. Ark of Taste list? Do you plan to? Share your thoughts and reactions on Talkback!

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