Soul food on the range

  Researchers at Northern Arizona University's Center for Sustainable Environments have some bad news about the average American diet: A typical meal's ingredients travel 2,000 miles from farm to fork, amassing huge environmental and economic costs along the way.

The costs are cultural, too, says NAU professor and noted author Gary Nabhan. While Westerners can instantly recall the taste of burgers or pasta, he says, the same cannot be said for such backyard fare as prickly pear, churro, pinon nuts, or Hopi piki bread.

Fortunately, some local food producers are still marketing unique, exquisitely flavorful foods that are grown in less destructive ways. A new directory, Fresh, Organic and Native Foods of the Colorado Plateau, provides an essential menu of such regional cuisine.

Co-edited by Nabhan and Lauren Rentenbach, the directory features wild-harvested, native and historically important foods found at farmers' markets and restaurants throughout the Four Corners area.

The authors implicitly question the Department of Agriculture's traditional "food pyramid," pointing out that the familiar triangle is most useful when it is surrounded with three points of concern: human health, environmental integrity and soul sustenance.

"When I'm traveling on the mesas and I smell the smoke of the cook-fires, I know I'm on the Colorado Plateau," says Nabhan. "This directory is about educating our taste buds and giving us a better sense of how our place tastes."

Fresh, Organic and Native Foods of the Colorado Plateau is available free at or by calling NAU's Center for Sustainable Environments at 520/523-0637.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Renee Guillory

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