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David Shields publishes new collaboration on heritage foods in the US

“The Ark of Taste” lushly illustrates the movement to preserve our food’s diversity

David Shields’s collaboration with writer Giselle Kennedy Lord and illustrator Claudia Pearson is an act of scholarly preservation and food-love. Published by Hachette under the imprint Voracious, The Ark of Taste: Delicious and Distinctive Foods that Define the United States (2023) is laden with histories of endangered or now-rare foods. These histories are studded with arresting anecdotes (see the description of nutting rituals in the chapter on the American Chestnut) and interleaved with tantalizing recipes that bring the foods’ potentialities to life (see, i.e., La Poblanita Cocktail, Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Risotto, Wellfleet Oysters with Bradford Watermelon Mignonette). The preservation project is an urgent one: “As our food system becomes more industrialized and colonized,” write Anna Mulè and Mara Welton in the Introduction, “we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate.” Approximately “75 percent of our global crop diversity was lost in the 20th century, and today, nine plant species account for 66 percent of total crop production. . . . Slow Food’s Ark of Taste is all about the joy and justice of biodiversity. It’s a global and grassroots effort to catalog the amazing range of foods around us before they disappear and to raise awareness about how we can act together to preserve and promote these fantastic finds.”

Evocatively illustrated and brimming with information, The Ark of Taste helps readers “explore and enjoy the heritage foods that give the United States its distinctive identity” (to quote from the volume’s promotional blurb).

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