Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition
I'd like to see one person read Food Heroes and not be inspired to rush out and dig, forage or hunt (or at least find a way to support someone who does).
If I could have one book to explain the reason for my recent change in diet, this would be it. It's not about weight for me. It's about getting back to the roots. Georgia Pellegrini explains this pretty nicely in her introduction. To paraphrase part of her argument: Currently we have a fad-- a push for whole and organic foods. The foundation of this fad is a longing for a connection with what we're eating. And as she says, "When this tie to tradition is undone, food is much less satisfying."
In this book, Pellegrini explores the practice of 16 Culinary Artisans who are working to preserve and strengthen the traditions that tie us to our food, just like the cover says, and their stories are as beautifully written as beautifully lived. The topics covered in this book are filled with the potential to drone on and bore, but the passion and beauty that fuels the daily work of these Food Heroes also fills each page with the energy needed to save our culinary traditions and transform the relationship we have with what's on our plates.
Through this page-turner, we meet a potato breeder, striving to preserve the potatoes of our history. While most of the world imagines the brown russet potato with it's dense white "meat," David Langford nurtures potatoes of all shapes and shades of color. His description of each potato reads as if he's describing a beloved relative's personality and quirks. Our insistence on an easy and profitable potato crop has made us strangers to the many varieties David spends his life trying to preserve.
We meet a seed saver who is cataloging the many varieties of tomatoes and beans that, for the same reason as the potato (convenience and profitability), are disappearing from our plates. Bill Best, the seed saver, receives seeds from all over the world, from people hoping to preserve a piece of their culinary history and heritage. With so much of our cultural knowledge tied to our tastebuds, Bill's work is the work of an archaeologist, uncovering and protecting the clues to our past.
There's a salami maker whose tie to the land of his ancestors' is in his meat curing room. From the process he follows to achieve the perfect salami and cured meats to the healthy bacteria smuggled in from the homeland, he's spent his life successfully preserving a practice that has been in his family for generations. But his success wasn't easy. He's had to battle USDA representatives who know less about the meat curing process than I do. The organization cannot understand a traditional process that boasts a healthier product than the new, scientific, chemical-based processes.
There's a bee keeper hard at work protecting our bee populations. Small town farmers making cheese, butter, beer, whiskey and olive oil in the same way its been made for generations. Despite the efforts of government regulations, costs, and consumer demands, these artisans are quiet rebels, fighting against a system that creates obstacle after obstacle for their traditional methods. Yet, these artisans are the very people who maintain the integrity of their own practice without the interference of oversight agencies.
Because Pellegrini knows you'll be inspired to live a piece of the life these artisans have carved out for themselves, she gives several recipes after each section and a to-do list at the end.
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