By Laura Buckley, Ark of Taste delegate
As the newly appointed chair of the Canadian Ark of Taste commission, I eagerly anticipated gathering with my counterparts at the meeting of the International Ark of Taste commission at Terra Madre. I went looking for answers about how to run our Canadian ark project. What I came home with is more questions.
There are just over 1,000 items on the ark. Four hundred of those are from Italy. In the Salone del Gusto, I tasted and learned the stories behind ark foods such as Carmignano’s dried figs, Saras del fen (a sheep’s milk ricotta from Piedmont), Nebbiolo wine from Carema, and myriad cured meats. How could we possibly do anything like this in Canada? Italy has a fraction of the landmass of Canada, double the population and thousands of years more history. Of course cataloguing traditional ingredients and artisan food production is much easier task.
There are almost 10 million square kilometres in Canada and we don’t have great traditions of artisan food production. Most of the artisan food producers we see in our farmers markets are making products based on European traditions. But as a young country, we have an important role to play in building our Ark. Before we cover our land with housing and industrialized agriculture, we need to save our heritage varieties of fruits, vegetables and animal breeds by introducing people to tastes beyond the standard varieties apples, lettuce, pork, chicken and beef. And by doing so we can encourage biodiversity and build on our immigrant traditions to have a wealth of delicious tasting foods for the future. We also need to catalogue our wild foods and traditions of our First Nations peoples.
It’s a big undertaking that needs the support of all convivia as well as the help of our American neighbors. Terroir doesn’t know political borders. If you look at the U.S. Ark of Taste, many of the items there are also part of our food history. Much of what grows in the west of the country has more in common with Washington, Montana and North Dakota than with the eastern provinces, which in turn share a terroir more similar to New York and the New England states.
As I reflect on the overwhelming experience of my time in Turin, I realize I learned a lot, even though much of it was different from my expectations. There are no easy answers to how to run the ark project in Canada, but I will continue researching and soliciting help to figure out the best ways to promote and preserve the biodiversity of our country.