Book Review: Renewing America’s Food Traditions.


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Book review courtesy of Melinda Wieck at, who makes it possible for publishers to get the green word out in a cost effective and environmentally friendly manner.

This book is not the typical Betty Crocker cookbook. In fact, there is a certain audacity credited to any book that dares to do what this book has done so well; it takes the reader on a culinary journey through history and location in North America. RENEWING AMERICA’S FOOD TRADITIONS (RAFT) does this with wonderful pictures, interesting recipes, historical background, and an eye to the future of feeding the growing population with a variety of traditional foods. When I first leafed through this text, I felt a bit overwhelmed by all it had to offer. But then I went back and read the Forward and Introduction and gained insight into the plan and purpose behind the book. Focusing on the editor’s intent allowed one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time to emerge. RAFT is written by a host of people, edited by Gary Paul Nabban, and printed by Chelsea Green Publishing Co. RAFT is a collaborative formed to identify, save, and renew “the diverse, multicultural food traditions of the North American continent”. This book presents stories and recipes associated with our heirloom foods. I find it interesting to note that this is a journey through the entire North American continent, because of course, plants and animals do not recognize man-made borders.

Many of us embrace the exotic imported foods from around the globe without fully appreciating the diverse foods available (once abundantly) in our own backyards. In order to feed millions of people, North Americans have moved toward monocultures of hybrid fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock. This has come at a great risk and loss of regional treats. Risk is self-inflicted due to the limited gene pool represented by these monocultures. Plus the unusual tastes and delights of foods indigenous to different ecosystems is lost when these foods are pushed to the edge of extinction by huge fields and feedlots. This book takes the reader through thirteen food “nations” or regions that naturally exist throughout this continent, detailing the local foods, their histories, and native recipes for their preparation. For example the “Crabcake Nation” along the east coast tells about blue crab, choppee okra, white maypop passion fruit, fish peppers, Zimmerman’s pawpaw, and Ossabaw Island hog. All of these foods are considered “heirloom” foods, having been passed down from generation to generation. All of these once abundant foods have become marginal in supply due to various environmental factors. The blue crab is in danger due to over harvesting and contamination of its habitat. Consequently, fish peppers, used to spice crab and shellfish dishes, are no longer in demand allowing them to fall from the market. But the book is not all gloom, doom, and negativity. It also tells of some small successes and the positive impacts that time, care and attention can give to the food growing environment. Anyone who enjoys cooking or history, is interested in cultural diversity, or cares about the environment will find this a fascinating book. I found it was great fun as well as educational to read about my own nation, Cornbread Nation, one of the largest areas. Well, let’s face it, anyone who is interested in putting food in their mouth should care about what this book has to say. It tells a difficult but necessary tale.

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  1. What an excellent review. It highlights how important it is to think about what we put in our mouths and where it comes from. The GM foods today are scary. eBooks are a great way to experience books – it is nice to see this format being showcased. Great job!

  2. This review makes the excellent point that while Americans seem to embrace “exotic” foreign foods, as seen in the popularity of Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican restaurants, we are really just falling back on what has now become the familiar in America. Truly indigenous American foods have now become the “exotic”! We will need to abandon our comfort level of relying on homogenized American foods-the same in all parts of the country- if we are to recapture the excitement of regional cuisine. Failing to do so would be a great loss to all American food lovers, a point well made by this reviewer.

  3. We can’t miss what we never knew about, and yet we might be missing out on a lot. Apple growers are slowly trying to bring back old varieties and introduce new ones to supplement the homogenized lot in the grocery store bins. Perhaps this book raised consciousness on such matters?

  4. I really enjoyed this review. As I travel, I like to experience more than the usual burger. I’ve had a few treats along the way (Mississippi Slum-Gully, Charleston Low-Country shrimp & grits) but would love to experience more. The “regional” aspects Ms. Wieck mentioned have really piqued my interests. I’d hate to lose these natural treats to mass food marketers.

  5. When I was growing up it was fun to travel to different spots in the USA and try the different foods. Now everyone heads for the McBurger joints and thinks they’ve had great food. How sad. It’s no wonder parents today have “problem eaters”. Their little bodies are saying no more junk food.

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