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Endangered Food from Around the World

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Ark of Taste's products

Discover products from around the world and ones that might be close to where you live. We also invite you to contribute by applying to the Ark of Taste catalogue.

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Discover products from around the world and ones that might be close to where you live. We also invite you to contribute by applying to the Ark of Taste catalogue.


Biodiversity is a bit of a difficult word, and often the only people who think about it are those who deal with it directly (environmentalists, biologists, agronomists, and so on). But it should be well known to all, because it refers to the diversity of life at every level, from the simplest genes and bacteria, to plant and animal species, to complex ecosystems. All of these levels intersect, influence each other, and evolve.

In the history of the Earth, everything has a beginning and an end, and in every age many species go extinct—but never at the startling speed of recent years, a thousand times faster than in previous eras. In addition to wild plants and animals, domesticated plant varieties and animal breeds, selected by human beings, are also disappearing.

Scholars at Stanford University have compared the species and varieties of an ecosystem to the rivets that hold an airplane together: If we get rid of them a few at a time, nothing happens for a while and the plane stays in the air. But, little by little, the structure gets gradually weaker and, at a certain point, you only have to remove one more rivet for the plane to fall apart and crash.

Biodiversity is our insurance for the future: It enables plants and animals to adapt to climate change, parasites and diseases, and the unexpected. A system based on a limited number of varieties is very fragile.

The best-known example of this is the Irish famine of the mid-19th century: In 1845, a blight infected the Irish potato crop, causing either the death or emigration, mainly to the United States, of millions of people. This happened because Irish farmers at the time grew only one potato variety, which eventually proved vulnerable to the spread of the blight. The disease resistance that later made it possible to fortify Irish potatoes was identified among the thousands of potato varieties cultivated by farmers in the Andes and in Mexico.

If that biodiversity had not been preserved, potatoes would not be one of the world’s staple crops today.

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For Slow Food, quality food is good, clean and fair.

Food is clean if it respects the Earth, if it does not pollute, if it does not squander or overexploit natural resources on its journey from field to fork. A food is clean to the extent that its supply system is based on certain criteria of naturalness and sustainability. A food is clean if it does not jeopardize the quality of the air, water, and soil, and if its production allows the water, air, and soil to continue producing life.

Clean food doesn’t leave pollution and destruction in its wake: It is produced without the excessive use of fossil fuels and without causing deforestation; it is not transported from one side of the planet to the other; it is seasonal and not over-packaged. Remember that each one of us helps protect this planet with our daily food choices.

Consumers must realize that, even though they are more expensive, “clean” foods are essential for our health and for that of future generations.

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Each culture and community has its own identity, and gastronomic heritage is an integral part of this identity. Gastronomic heritage comprises products, traditions, and artisanal knowledge, the result of thousands of years of human presence in a specific place, and also of the exchanges that local communities have established over time with other peoples. Food reflects the entire history of a territory and embodies the ways in which different cultures have merged over the centuries, through cuisine. Intangible cultural heritage is fragile and is transmitted from generation to generation; it is constantly recreated by communities and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity. Given its fragility, gastronomic cultural heritage has to be considered a common good that needs to be protected, celebrated, and enjoyed.

Industrial agriculture and the standardization of taste is wiping out many foods, along with their history and culture. In the last 60 years, thousands of species, breeds, and varieties selected by humans, as well as processed foods (such as breads, cheeses, cured meats, and sweets), have disappeared. Food diversity is a unique and precious genetic, cultural, social, and economic resource. When foods disappear, we lose expertise, knowledge, and identity, in addition to genetic resources, and local economies and cultures are compromised.

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Taste, like every other aspect of human culture, is influenced by history and is something that changes over time, just as it varies across space. Choices, exclusions, and preferences differ between individuals, groups, and regions. On one level, taste is sensation, experienced through the tongue and palate; it is by definition subjective, elusive, and difficult to communicate. On another level, and at the same time, taste is also a kind of knowledge; it is an evaluation of what is good or bad, what we like or dislike. And these evaluations and recognitions, as well as the ways in which we classify them, are taught and learned. In this sense, taste is something that is collective and shared; it is part of culture, the result of traditions and aesthetics that are transmitted socially. Together with our genetic heritage, our culture and environment play an important role in determining our food choices. Savoring different foods and interpreting them through multiple traditional gastronomic perspectives helps us to understand and pass on uses and customs linked to our histories, the culture of our territories, and our families. Cultivating a sense of curiosity about foods that do not come from our own traditions helps us to become interested in what is different, to bring diverse realities into contact with each other, and ultimately to understand the importance of protecting and sharing these differences.

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