Deborah Madison may travel the world promoting the saving of endangered foods and small-scale agriculture, but her roots are firmly planted in her community of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in its local food traditions. The author of several award-winning cookbooks, Deborah has actively advocated buying locally grown food ever since she opened Greens Restaurant in San Francisco in 1979. The restaurant had its own farm that provided some of the produce, and Deborah sought the rest from local farms and farmers' markets. To Deborah, eating is a political act, and nowhere is this more apparent than at farmers' markets.
"The scope of the farmers' markets is enormous," says Deborah. "[They] have everything to do with our quality of life, from the experience of community that we find there, to the satisfying experience of buying directly from those who grow our food. After experiencing the many joys and satisfactions that the farmers' market provides, we can't help but become aware of such things as land value assessment, water allocation, approval of new developments on agricultural land." Deborah pays homage to farmers' markets in her new book, Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets. She has visited more than 100 such markets around the country, and in Local Flavors she takes the reader to many of them, celebrating both the regional differences, and the common threads that tie each market to its community. The foods are, of course, the main attraction, and Deborah also offers tantalizing recipes for using regional and seasonal favorites.
Deborah's father was first a farmer, later a professor, and she grew up in Davis, California, eating homegrown fruits and vegetables. Food fresh from the garden was one of those facts of life she took for granted. Not anymore. Deborah's devotion to saving our food heritage has taken her to the international arena as a leader in the Slow Food movement.
"The main message of Slow Food is about slowing down to enjoy and appreciate food," says Deborah, "but it's also about knowing where our food comes from and what it takes to produce it, with a concern for the environment and sustainability."
Slow Food has 65,000 members in 45 countries, and as a grassroots movement it's had some success stories. The organization is committed to saving a designated a list of delicious yet endangered food plants and animals ? called the Ark of Taste ? such as the 'Gravenstein' apple, 'Iroquois White' corn, red abalone, 'Sun Crest' peach, Delaware Bay oyster, and heritage turkeys. Heritage turkeys include four old varieties that are on the edge of extinction. They are no longer grown commercially because they don't have as large a breast as the commonly raised breed, 'Broad Breasted White'. But Deborah vouches for their "absolutely stunning" flavor. "There's no comparison between these birds and the mass-produced counterpart," she states. Slow Food drew attention to these endangered species a few years ago and recruited farmers to raise heritage turkeys, guaranteeing a fair price. The world population of these breeds has now doubled.
"That can be done with peaches, apricots, raw milk farmstead cheeses, a lot of foods that are delicious and important," says Deborah. Unlike another approach to saving endangered species by preserving them in a seed bank, Slow Food supports efforts to make these foods available for eating and enjoyment now.
"The belief is that by saving the food, we can preserve some of the cultural traditions that surround that food," Deborah adds. To her, enjoying the local flavors and community spirit at your nearby farmer's market is a good place to start.
For more information about Deborah Madison's work and books, visit: www.randomhouse.com/features/deborahmadison/
For more about Slow Food, visit: www.Slowfood.com
Article published on September 9, 2004.