Edited by Slow Food Editore
(Chelsea Green Publishing; 768 pages)
When traveling, it’s great fun to explore the local produce and cuisine, some of which has been imported from elsewhere – like the kolaches of West Texas, or fish stews created from recipes passed down from Italian grandmothers served in a small restaurant North of San Francisco, or others which are indigenous.
However, there’s often a tendency to under-appreciate that which is in our own backyards. Some food traditions are fading, which is what the Slow Food movement hopes to halt. The group is even attempting to reverse the trend with the establishment of what it calls Presidia – connections designed to nurture the continued cultivation and production of animals and food stuffs in danger of extinction.
Terra Madre: 1,600 Food Communities devotes itself to describing the Presidia and other food communities throughout the world. Indeed, this book covers groups in 150 countries. The goal is to provide a forum for the world’s small producers to exchange ideas and solutions, creating a “democratic network of players who speak freely and strengthen each other reciprocally.”
The producers of cardoons, cocoa, cassava, and coffee are introduced, as are animal breeders intent on maintaining biodiversity through their devotion to a single species of chicken, pig, or bovine. Yak cheese makers and black bread bakers are included. The beautiful photos of cheese and drying beans, the idyllic scenes of nuzzling calves and lamb-dotted pastures may make you want to plan a vacation to visit several of these projects. Of the 768 pages in the phonebook-thick volume, there almost 200 pages for the Italian Presida projects alone — from Acquaviva Red Onions to Zolfino Beans.
In the listings for the Americas are included two Ventura County agricultural concerns: McGrath Family Farms and The Ojai Valley Pixie Growers. California is, naturally, well represented by brewers, bakers, CSAs. There are also contacts to wild food harvesters, taro farmers, and seed-saving organizations throughout the United States.
One obvious question arises: with so many foods in danger of perishing, what happens to the wisdom associated with ultimately preparing and enjoying some of these products? Certainly, any grade schooler can tear into a Pixie or munch an heirloom peach. But how do you cook a cardoon? What’s the best soaking method for a particular broad bean? Does this knowledge stay local and specialized? Does it travel with the ingredients? Or is it meant to stay local? Perhaps.
And yet, there seems a true desire to share these foodways beyond borders. “Getting to know food communities means getting to know the world,” according to the introduction. “Food communities don’t confine themselves to providing us with what we eat, but ensure our survival and that of the planet we live on. By getting to know them, we rediscover the importance of very simple but vital elements such as the earth and water.”
Linda Dailey Paulson is a Ventura-based freelance writer dreaming of one day eating and drinking her way around the world.