Survival Math on a Macintosh

“To me, Slow Food is spending a few quarters on a Spitzenberg apple instead of a Red Delicious. It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing.”

That’s Patrick Martins, former chief of Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste project, in Michael Pollan’s profile of the slow food movement. Long central to second-grade math, apples are also an easy way to illustrate the logic of the Ark of Taste, the effort to preserve the full range of nature’s original flavors.

As Slow Food USA points out, there are over 2,500 species of apples grown in American orchards, yet fewer than a dozen account for 90 percent of total production. That statistic represents a matchless opportunity for any consumer willing to slow the velocity of his internal consumption, just a bit.

For example, Eureka, Newell’s Winter, Northern Spy and Paw Paw apples still grow in the Midwest. In the Northeast, canopies of Aunt Penelope Winslow, Strawberry Chenango, Granite Beauty, Newton Pippin and Paradise Sweet shade the land. The Southeast has Red Limbertwig, Red Horse, Kinniard’s Choice and Winter Jon. In the Southwest it’s Carolina Red June, Grimes Golden and Mollie’s Delicious. And the West has much more to offer than the perfectly waxed mass-market varieties. There’s Pink Pearl, Golden Russet, Hidden Rose, Williams Pride and Sierra Beauty.

This adventure in apples is a tale that can be retold with countless grains, seeds, vegetables and fruits as main characters. As Michael Pollan explains:

“Slow Food aims to teach us to taste what makes Iroquois corn special (it’s wonderful stuff, with an earthy, sweet, extra-corny flavor that makes commercial corn products taste pallid by comparison) and to slow down to enjoy some slow dishes traditionally cooked with it. (Like posole, a smoky Southwestern stew of dried roasted corn that, made right, can take all day.) . . .

“We’ve come to think of biodiversity as a biological crisis of wild species, but the survival of the domesticated species we’ve depended on for centuries is no less important. For one thing, when the latest patented hybrid-corn variety meets its bacterial or fungal match, as all monocultures sooner or later do, breeders will need these heirloom varieties to refresh the gene pool. Should that Iroquois white corn fall out of production, as it very nearly did a decade ago, an irreplaceable and quite possibly crucial set of corn genes would be lost to the world.”

Saving nature’s masterpieces, saving tastes that might never be enjoyed again, plus the practicality of guarding biodiversity for our own preservation — it’s a story we’ve seen before. It’s the kind of great moral challenge that calls people of vision to accomplish epic things. Perhaps even to build an ark.

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