Saving Endangered Species One Mouthful at a Time Conservation scientist Gary Nabhan says the best way to recover some of America's at-risk species is to eat them. He documents lost and threatened foods in his new book, Renewing America's Food Traditions.
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Saving Endangered Species One Mouthful at a Time

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Saving Endangered Species One Mouthful at a Time

Saving Endangered Species One Mouthful at a Time

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Here's an idea for saving endangered species: slice them up and slap them on the grill. That's the premise behind a new book, "Restoring America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods." We stopped by the local farmers market to test out the idea.

So, if a species in endangered, you should eat it.

Ms. HEATHER GODSEY(ph) (Shopper): No. You shouldn't do that.

Mr. LANDON GODSEY (Shopper): Probably not.

Mr. TOM HUBRICK (Shopper): I can't imagine eating a koala bear or something like that.

SEABROOK: Sounds crazy, say Tom Hubrick and before that Heather and Landon Godsey. But it just might work. Conservation scientist Gary Nabhan edited the new book.

Mr. GARY NABHAN (Conservation Scientist): Well, for heirloom seeds and heritage livestock breeds, yes. For wild species it may be a couple of generations before we see them on our plates again. But we want to engage people in their recovery and their habitat restoration and 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 who play a part in this conservation.

SEABROOK: It's an idea that makes sense to Eric Rice of Country Pleasures Farm in Middletown, Maryland. He grows a rare species of apple called the black twig.

Mr. ERIC RICE (Country Pleasures Farm): By eating you can actually develop a demand for it. And if you develop a demand for it then more people will grow it. And so there's something to be said for that.

Mr. NABHAN: That's right. A lot of wonderful flavors have fallen off our kitchen table because they've lost market demand. A lot of them, because they couldn't be shipped all the way across the country. So if we create local market demand for these, if we take these place-based heritage foods and make them the pride of our festivals and fairs and Thanksgivings and picnics again, they will come back from the brink of extinction and be available not just as part of our biodiversity but part of our culinary heritage again.

SEABROOK: Gary Nabhan's book is loaded with recipes using things you've never heard of - the black sphinx date, the Northern giant cabbage and the Tennessee fainting goat.

Mr. NABHAN: The Tennessee fainting goat looks as if it has just seen Elvis and swooned.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NABHAN: But in fact it has wonderful meat characteristics for barbeque. But it was on the brink of extinction and now people in Tennessee and Texas and surrounding states are bringing it back.

SEABROOK: What's it taste like?

Mr. NABHAN: And it - well, it depends how you fix it. You can't fix these heritage breeds, these meats as if they are a frozen angus steak. The best chefs in the country are experimenting with them. And, for example, I've had the mule foot hog cooked by Kurt Frees of Iowa City, Iowa. It was the best pork I have ever had hands down.

SEABROOK: Sounds great for dinner on the town but it's not great news for those of us without celebrity chefs at home. At the local farmers market, we find out something else. There's a reason why producers go with more conventional breeds. Take egg seller, Tom Hubrick. He loves his golden comet chickens.

Mr. HUBRICK: They're always on time, they're always cheery and they don't call in sick. How much better does it get? And if I do have to negotiate with them, it's very simple, it's either my way or you're soup.

SEABROOK: But, Hubrick says, a more obscure heritage breed wouldn't do him much good.

Mr. HUBRICK: They don't lay a large egg. You know, the biggest is a medium egg. And most people want large or extra large eggs.

SEABROOK: At another stall here, Corey Childs sells mutton and lamb from his farm in Virginia. It is a boutique operation. The sheep are grass fed and, he says, humanely raised. But they're not a heritage breed. He says those take too long to raise.

Mr. COREY CHILDS (Seller): The longer it takes you to get an animal from birth to market ready, the longer it takes you to get any return on your investment. So, that's usually the downside. The plus side to it is normally they have more flavor in some cases.

SEABROOK: Your mother watering yet? Gary Nabhan says start looking for heritage foods locally.

Mr. NABHAN: Many of them can still be found in farmers markets across the country but just in three or four farmers markets. Some can now be found on the Internet through Local Harvest, a Web site that lists all of the rare foods of exquisite flavor that can be sustainably harvested and indeed find out how to direct order these foods from the farmers and fishers that offer them still.

SEABROOK: So, remember that black twig apple? It's dark red, almost like a plum. It's a great storage apple, says Eric Rice.

Mr. RICE: They are an old southern variety of apple from the mid-1800s. And that a few folks have worked to save the trees and so they are now available. And we've been using them now to make stewed apples with calvados.

SEABROOK: What's calvados?

Mr. RICE: Oh, calvados is the step beyond apple brandy.

SEABROOK: Oh, it's...

Mr. RICE: Spectacular...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RICE: ...would be the word.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RICE: Born for cider - there's no question it's born for cider. It's probably the reason it survived in that part of the world since the mountains of southern Appalachia is known for a lot of things, not the least of which was being able to make alcohol out of a lot of things.

SEABROOK: There are more rare foods and recipes from Gary Nabhan's book, "Renewing America's Food Traditions," at our Web site, Check out the recipe for crow bison cattail stew and mission wine punch.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Up next, Narnia's back on the big screen, darker and scarier this time. Prince Caspian to the rescue.

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