Thursday, October 30, 2008
30 Days to a Greener Diet - Day 13
Buy an Heirloom (or a Heritage) Food
Once Upon a Time, Tomatoes Looked Gnarly and Tasted Great and Not Vice Versa
You’ve seen those weird-looking tomatoes, right? Usually at the farm stand, in every crazy-looking shape and color including stripes and even green? Take one bite and you’ll be hooked — and probably calling them delicious instead of weird. Enjoying an heirloom tomato is a perfectly painless way to green your diet.
Heirloom vegetables are the fruits of plants from generations-old varieties of seed, sometimes passed down within a family. These varieties are more than just a taste of the past and full of flavor. They protect the biodiversity and a fragile genetic and culinary heritage that would have been lost to mass factory farming that selects varieties for shipping rather than taste. Since the 1970s, visionaries such as Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy, founders of the nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange, concerned with the loss of diversity and taste in the vegetable and flower market, began exchanging seeds with networks of other home growers of antique varieties.
From that modest beginning, heirloom vegetables are the superstars of the vegetable aisle, appearing on the menus of chic restaurants and in glossy food magazines. From gorgeous squash to corn to exotic-looking cauliflowers and kales, heirloom vegetables are a staple of the greener diet.
But it’s not just vegetables that are going native.
Artisan farmers are also bringing back what’s know as Heritage Livestock: the many breeds of chickens, turkeys, pigs and other livestock that once were staples of America’s cuisine before factory farming began limiting the variety and biodiversity of food flavor in favor of ease of growing and shipping. These still-rare meats are often the product of local artisan farms, and are generally raised using compassionate farming practices with fewer drugs and hormones. There are several organizations promoting the rediscovery of these heritage breeds, the biggest is the American Lifestock Breed Conservancy.
Today you’ll notice these meats at the gourmet shop or on gourmet restaurant menus. Tomorrow, hopefully, as more Americans ask for greener, more compassionately raised meats, they will become available at a supermarket near everybody.