I'd imagine it's a rare occasion when environmentalists and Ted Nugent agree on anything, but conservation scientist Gary Nabhan and the bow-hunting Nuge might share similar philosophies regarding endangered species: Kill 'Em and Grill 'Em. Nabhan argues in his new book Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods that the best way to protect some of North America's most threatened plants and animals is by eating them. This, in turn, could drive up demand for these rare foodstuffs and help foster preservation through sustainable cultivation.
"If we create local market demand for these — if we take these place-based heritage foods and make them the pride of our fairs and festivals and thanksgivings and picnics again — they will come back from the brink of extinction," Nabhan said.
"By reminding people that these foods have been an important part of the historic dietary of America, we think we can motivate people besides self-described environmentalists to play a part in this conservation."
According to Nabhan, over 1,000 plants and animals once commonly eaten in the United States are threatened or virtually extinct. These species include rare plant varietals like black twig apples, original wildlife like grass-fed bison, and exotic livestock like the Tennessee fainting goat, which, because of an otherwise harmless genetic condition, actually stiffens and collapses when startled. In most cases, these "heritage foods" have superior flavor and culinary characteristics, if not the high-volume yield demanded by mass-market grocers.
Nabhan says endangered food has caught on among certain haute-cuisine chefs, and their championing of certain species could signal the beginning of a greater trend.
To find heritage foods in your area, visit www.localharvest.org. Now, this conservation strategy obviously would work better on some endangered species rather than others — so don't anybody go out and stir-fry a panda, okay?
— Ted Alvarez