An American Treasury of Taste

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir

Three years ago, my wife and I honeymooned in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, spending the better part of the day hiking past waterfalls, through woodlands, then down to the white sands of the Superior shore. A year or two prior, there was a week’s worth of backpacking Isle Royal, the nation’s least-visited National Park which, with moss hanging from trees and populated by wolf and moose, is best described as primordial forest.

Having spent some time in the Badlands in his younger years and struck by its rugged, untamed wildness, Theodore Roosevelt returned later in life–stunned by the degradation of the land and the wildlife it supported. This experience no doubt galvanized Roosevelt who became the “Conservation president”, setting aside designated lands as veritable national treasures which would eventually include the beloved Pictured Rocks and Isle Royal.

One of my favorite ways to understand heritage meats is as a “National Parks System for Meat.” In 1977 The Livestock Conservancy, like Roosevelt before it, recognized the need to ensure that endangered resources would not disappear from the face of the earth. Having lost far too many breeds to industrial agriculture, no breed put on the Conservancy’s watch list has yet undergone extinction. And, what’s more, the very reasons for heritage livestock breeds’ undesirability in the conventional model make them the most enjoyable to eat, namely slow growth rates and performance on pasture.

Through the Conservancy’s efforts (and those who eat heritage meats), flavors nearly lost to history are being discovered as an American treasury of taste. Instead of the Red Wood Forest, Red Wattle pork. Instead of the Grand Tetons, Galloway beef. Instead of Shenandoah, Southdown lamb.

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