Editor: Gary Paul Nabhan
In this refreshing collection, one of our best writers on desert places, Gary Paul Nabhan, challenges traditional notions of the desert. Beautiful, reflective, and at times humorous, Nabhan’s extended essay also called “The Nature of Desert Nature” reveals the complexity of what a desert is and can be. He passionately writes about what it is like to visit a desert and what living in a desert looks like when viewed through a new frame, turning age-old notions of the desert on their heads.
Nabhan invites a prism of voices—friends, colleagues, and advisors from his more than four decades of study of deserts—to bring their own perspectives. Scientists, artists, desert contemplatives, poets, and writers bring the desert into view and investigate why these places compel us to walk through their sands and beneath their cacti and acacia. We observe the spines and spears, stings and songs of the desert anew. Unexpected. Surprising. Enchanting. Like the desert itself, each essay offers renewed vocabulary and thoughtful perceptions.
The desert inspires wonder. Attending to history, culture, science, and spirit, The Nature of Desert Nature celebrates the bounty and the significance of desert places.
This book is a celebration, an exploration, an accumulation of voices swept up together in a circle of wind, a deployment of all the senses, including the ones you might have forgotten you had. It is magic, science, memory, miracle. If the desert had a seed, a genetic capsule of itself, it would be this book. And you, reader, are the rain that falls, bringing it to life.
It’s about time. Who better to tackle the nature of desert, in its fullness, than Gary Nabhan and these contributors. As a desert musician who loves music that credits landscape and place, this book is my textbook for understanding the nature of what moves me to music.
Mary Austin, Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey, Gary Nabhan—the sonorous voices of Arid America. None more knowledgeable than Nabhan, who here leads a choir of voices in a desert chorale.
We’ve been slow to warm to deserts as places worth learning and caring about. This original and probing little book, led by one of the pioneers in our understanding of desert ecology and culture, should lay to rest the notion that there isn’t much to see (or feel) in these lands of little rain. A bracing and deeply thoughtful collection that should appeal to desert rationalists and romantics everywhere.
by Gary Nabhan
In his latest book, Mesquite, Gary Paul Nabhan employs humor and contemplative reflection to convince readers that they have never really glimpsed the essence of what he calls “arboreality.”
As a Franciscan brother and ethnobotanist who has often mixed mirth with earth, laughter with landscape, food with frolic, Nabhan now takes on a large, many-branched question: What does it means to be a tree, or, accordingly, to be in a deep and intimate relationship with one?
To answer this question, Nabhan does not disappear into a forest but exposes himself to some of the most austere hyper-arid terrain on the planet—the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts along the US/Mexico border—where even the most ancient perennial plants are not tall and thin, but stunted and squat.
There, in desert regions that cover more than a third of our continent, mesquite trees have become the staff of life, not just for indigenous cultures, but for myriad creatures, many of which respond to these “nurse plants” in wildly intelligent and symbiotic ways.
In this landscape, where Nabhan claims that nearly every surviving being either sticks, stinks, stings, or sings, he finds more lives thriving than you could ever shake a stick at. As he weaves his arid yarns, we suddenly realize that our normal view of the world has been turned on its head: where we once saw scarcity, there is abundance; where we once perceived severity, there is whimsy. Desert cultures that we once assumed lived in “food deserts” are secretly savoring a most delicious world.
Drawing on his half-century of immersion in desert ethnobotany, ecology, linguistics, agroforestry, and eco-gastronomy, Nabhan opens up for us a hidden world that we had never glimpsed before. Along the way, he explores the sensuous reality surrounding this most useful and generous tree.
Mesquite is a book that will delight mystics and foresters, naturalists and foodies. It combines cutting-edge science with a generous sprinkling of humor and folk wisdom, even including traditional recipes for cooking with mesquite.
America has never felt more divided. But in the midst of all the acrimony comes one of the most promising movements in our country’s history. People of all races, faiths, and political persuasions are coming together to restore America’s natural wealth: its ability to produce healthy foods.
In Food from the Radical Center, Gary Nabhan tells the stories of diverse communities who are getting their hands dirty and bringing back North America’s unique fare: bison, sturgeon, camas lilies, ancient grains, turkeys, and more. These efforts have united people from the left and right, rural and urban, faith-based and science-based, in game-changing collaborations. Their successes are extraordinary by any measure, whether economic, ecological, or social. In fact, the restoration of land and rare species has provided—dollar for dollar—one of the best returns on investment of any conservation initiative.
As a leading thinker and seasoned practitioner in biocultural conservation, Nabhan offers a truly unique perspective on the movement. He draws on fifty years of work with community-based projects around the nation, from the desert Southwest to the low country of the Southeast. Yet Nabhan’s most enduring legacy may be his message of hope: a vision of a new environmentalism that is just and inclusive, allowing former adversaries to commune over delicious foods.
Food from the Radical Center connects how we eat with how we live through stories of true collaboration, of people coming together across borders to repair soils, habitats, and the health of species. This important book calls on each of us to help restore and re-story the nation’s capacity to feed and nourish–it also honors the geography of home.
In this moving, essential collection of stories, Gary Paul Nabhan introduces us to the unsung heroes of biocultural restoration. Rallying to the fundamental human work of feeding their neighbors, these inspiring leaders demonstrate that we can restore our environment and our communities at the same time — and in the process, we might just restore our collective faith in the promise of democracy.
Using remarkable insights and examples, Gary Nabhan brings together collaborative conservation and food in a way that will challenge, inspire, and motivate all of us to become better stewards, harvesters, and consumers.
Ethnobiology holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many because of its dedication to celebrating the knowledge and values of some of the most distinctive cultural practices in some of the most distinctive places on Earth. Yet we live in a world of diminishing natural and linguistic diversity. Whether due to climate change or capitalism, homogeneity is trumping the once-resplendent heterogeneity all around us.
In this important new collection, Gary Paul Nabhan puts forth a call for the future not only of ethnobiology but for the entire planet. He articulates and broadens the portfolio of ethnobiological principles and amplifies the tool kit for anyone engaged in the ethnobiosphere, those vital spaces of intense interaction among cultures, habitats, and creatures.
The essays are grouped into a trio of themes. The first group presents the big questions facing humanity, the second profiles tools and methodologies that may help to answer those questions, and the third ponders how to best communicate these issues not merely to other scholars, but to society at large. The essays attest to the ways humans establish and circumscribe their identities not only through their thoughts and actions, but also with their physical, emotional, and spiritual attachments to place, flora, fauna, fungi, and feasts.
Gary Paul Nabhan takes the reader on a vivid and far-ranging journey across time and space in this fascinating look at the relationship between the spice trade and culinary imperialism. Drawing on his own family’s history as spice traders, as well as travel narratives, historical accounts, and an ethnobotanical exploration of spices and their uses, Nabhan describes the critically important roles that Semitic peoples and desert floras had in setting the stages for globalized spice trade.
Traveling along four prominent trade routes—the Silk Road, the Frankincense Trail, the Spice Route, and the Camino Real for chiles and chocolate—Nabhan follows the caravans of itinerant spice merchants from the frankincense-gathering grounds and ancient harbors of the Arabian Peninsula, to the port of Zayton on the China Sea, to Santa Fe in the desert Southwest. His stories, recipes, and linguistic analyses of cultural diffusion routes reveal the extent to which aromatics like cumin, cinnamon, saffron, and peppers became adopted worldwide as signature ingredients of diverse cuisines. Cumin, Camels, and Caravans demonstrates that two particular desert cultures often depicted in constant conflict—Arabs and Jews—have spent more of their history collaborating in the spice trade and suggests how a more virtuous multicultural but globalized society may be achieved in the future.
Food, Genes, and Culture – Eating Right for Your Origins
by Gary Nabhan
Vegan, low fat, low carb, slow carb: Every diet seems to promise a one-size-fits-all solution to health. But they ignore the diversity of human genes and how they interact with what we eat.
In Food, Genes, and Culture, renowned ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan shows why the perfect diet for one person could be disastrous for another. If your ancestors were herders in Northern Europe, milk might well provide you with important nutrients, whereas if you’re Native American, you have a higher likelihood of lactose intolerance. If your roots lie in the Greek islands, the acclaimed Mediterranean diet might save your heart; if not, all that olive oil could just give you stomach cramps.
Nabhan traces food traditions around the world, from Bali to Mexico, uncovering the links between ancestry and individual responses to food. The implications go well beyond personal taste. Today’s widespread mismatch between diet and genes is leading to serious health conditions, including a dramatic growth over the last 50 years in auto-immune and inflammatory diseases.
Readers will not only learn why diabetes is running rampant among indigenous peoples and heart disease has risen among those of northern European descent, but may find the path to their own perfect diet.
Gary Nabhan is one of the most important food writers we have in this country. In this eloquent and fascinating book, he shows us how our food and culture are so deeply rooted in our land and agriculture.
This exploration of the coevolution of communities and their native foods couldn’t be more timely…Mixing hard science with personal anecdotes, Nabhan convincingly argues that health comes from a genetically appropriate diet inextricably entwined with a healthy land and culture.
by Gary Nabhan
Foreword by Bill McKibben
With climatic uncertainty now “the new normal,” many farmers, gardeners, and orchardists in North America are desperately seeking ways to adapt how they grow food in the face of climate change. The solutions may be at our back door.
In Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, Nabhan, one of the world’s experts on the agricultural traditions of arid lands, draws from the knowledge of traditional farmers in the Gobi Desert, the Arabian Peninsula, the Sahara Desert, and Andalusia, as well as the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Painted deserts of North America to offer time-tried strategies, including:
- Building greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soils;
- Protecting fields from damaging winds, drought, and floods;
- Reducing heat stress on crops and livestock;
- Harvesting water from uplands to use in rain gardens and terraces filled with perennial crops;
- Selecting fruits, nuts, succulents, and herbaceous perennials that are best suited to warmer, drier climates; and,
- Keeping pollinators in pace and in place with arid-adapted crop plants.
“Emulating and refining these adaptations may help us secure food in the face of climate change,” writes Nabhan.
A certain type of agricultural history was made in 2011 when more than 500 food-producing counties in the continental United States were declared parts of disaster areas because they suffered weather-related crop failures. The searing heat waves and dry conditions suffered across seven-tenths of the United States during the summer of 2012 proved even more devastating: 2,228 counties were designated as federal disaster areas, where crops and livestock were either severely affected or lost to drought.
Drylands are home to 40 percent of the world’s people: a figure sure to rise in the coming decades as our world grows more parched. That is why Gary Nabhan’s latest book is indispensable. Everyone who grows food — make that, everyone who eats food — should be grateful he wrote it. An homage to old wisdom and to the latter-day soil magicians who are Nabhan’s living muses, it is a rich herbarium of delicious, hardy sustenance and a manual for our future.
Comments by: Diana Kennedy, Rick Baylees and Rowan Jacobson
Cover art by: Paul Mirocha
Why does food taste better when you know where it comes from? Because history—ecological, cultural, even personal—flavors every bite we eat. Whether it’s the volatile chemical compounds that a plant absorbs from the soil or the stories and memories of places that are evoked by taste, layers of flavor await those willing to delve into the roots of real food. In this landmark book, Gary Paul Nabhan takes us on a personal trip into the southwestern borderlands to discover the terroir—the “taste of the place”—that makes this desert so delicious.
To savor the terroir of the borderlands, Nabhan presents a cornucopia of local foods—Mexican oregano, mesquite-flour tortillas, grass-fed beef, the popular Mexican dessert capirotada, and corvina (croaker or drum fish) among them—as well as food experiences that range from the foraging of Cabeza de Vaca and his shipwrecked companions to a modern-day camping expedition on the Rio Grande. Nabhan explores everything from the biochemical agents that create taste in these foods to their history and dispersion around the world. Through his field adventures and humorous stories, we learn why Mexican oregano is most potent when gathered at the most arid margins of its range—and why foods found in the remote regions of the borderlands have surprising connections to foods found by his ancestors in the deserts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. By the end of his movable feast, Nabhan convinces us that the roots of this fascinating terroir must be anchored in our imaginations as well as in our shifting soils.
This latest book by Gary Nabhan shows him as an historian, an adventurer, a cook, and an ethnobotanist and, as such, a keen observer of the landscape around him. Ever since his first book, The Desert Smells Like Rain, I love to read his finely tuned descriptions of the natural world and here, once again, in Desert Terroir he makes us acutely aware of the never-ending variety of the plants, trees, and landscapes through which he is passing and through which we may have passed without taking heed.
Desert Terroir is deceptive. In these simple stories of people foraging and farming the lands of the Southwest, Gary Nabhan has captured the essence of the desert, and just maybe the essence of the place itself. Desert Terroir will make you crave wild oregano, mesquite tortillas, and yes, even camel sausage, but it will do more than that – locked within these pages are the secret codes to understanding life’s myriad answers to earth’s ancient questions. Read it, and see the wonder and the mystery through fresh eyes.
In the two decades I’ve known Gary Nabhan and the words he’s collected into books, I’ve eagerly anticipated every meeting, every new work. He remains ahead of the pack, exploring dimensions of agricultural heritage and food justice that most writers neglect. In Desert Terroir, he returns to what he does the best: telling delicious stories, rooted deeply in people and places, that will enrich our relationships with our favorite foods.
Chasing Chiles looks at both the future of place-based foods and the effects of climate change on agriculture through the lens of the chile pepper—from the farmers who cultivate this iconic crop to the cuisines and cultural traditions in which peppers play a huge role.
Why chile peppers? Both a spice and a vegetable, chile peppers have captivated imaginations and taste buds for thousands of years. Native to Mesoamerica and the New World, chiles are currently grown on every continent, since their relatively recent introduction to Europe (in the early 1500s via Christopher Columbus). Chiles are delicious, dynamic, and very diverse—they have been rapidly adopted, adapted, and assimilated into numerous world cuisines, and while malleable to a degree, certain heirloom varieties are deeply tied to place and culture—but now accelerating climate change may be scrambling their terroir.
Over a year-long journey, three pepper-loving gastronauts—an agroecologist, a chef, and an ethnobotanist—set out to find the real stories of America’s rarest heirloom chile varieties, and learn about the changing climate from farmers and other people who live by the pepper, and who, lately, have been adapting to shifting growing conditions and weather patterns. They put a face on an issue that has been made far too abstract for our own good.
A treasure trove of chile lore and a wake-up call to everyone who cares about real food, Chasing Chiles will amuse and alarm you. These three gastronauts carry a wealth of culinary and botanical knowledge, and their journeys in their Spice Ship uncover an incredibly diverse world of chiles that is changing with breathtaking speed. Stop worrying about the impact of climate change on future harvests; cross your fingers for this year’s instead.
Gary Paul Nabhan
The future of our food depends on tiny seeds in orchards and fields the world over. In 1943, one of the first to recognize this fact, the great botanist Nikolay Vavilov, lay dying of starvation in a Soviet prison. But in the years before Stalin jailed him as a scapegoat for the country’s famines, Vavilov had traveled over five continents, collecting hundreds of thousands of seeds in an effort to outline the ancient centers of agricultural diversity and guard against widespread hunger. Now, another remarkable scientist—and vivid storyteller—has retraced his footsteps.
In Where Our Food Comes From , Gary Paul Nabhan weaves together Vavilov’s extraordinary story with his own expeditions to Earth’s richest agricultural landscapes and the cultures that tend them. Retracing Vavilov’s path from Mexico and the Colombian Amazon to the glaciers of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, he draws a vibrant portrait of changes that have occurred since Vavilov’s time and why they matter.
In his travels, Nabhan shows how climate change, free trade policies, genetic engineering, and loss of traditional knowledge are threatening our food supply. Through discussions with local farmers, visits to local outdoor markets, and comparison of his own observations in eleven countries to those recorded in Vavilov’s journals and photos, Nabhan reveals just how much diversity has already been lost. But he also shows what resilient farmers and scientists in many regions are doing to save the remaining living riches of our world.
Gary Paul Nabhan; Editor
Forwarded by: Deborah Madison
Released on: 04/01/2008
Renewing America’s Food Traditions is a beautifully illustrated dramatic call to recognize, celebrate, and conserve the great diversity of foods that gives North America its distinctive culinary identity that reflects our multicultural heritage. It offers us rich natural and cultural histories as well as recipes and folk traditions associated with the rarest food plants and animals in North America. In doing so, it reminds us that what we choose to eat can either conserve or deplete the cornucopia of our continent.
While offering a eulogy to a once-common game food that has gone extinct—the passenger pigeon—the book doesn’t dwell on tragic losses. Instead, it highlights the success stories of food recovery, habitat restoration, and market revitalization that chefs, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and foresters have recently achieved. Through such “food parables,” editor Gary Paul Nabhan and his colleagues build a persuasive argument for eater-based conservation.
Renewing America’s Food Traditions gives us a great food adventure to embark on—really no less than discovering ourselves through foods that we didn’t even know were, in some way, ours.
The landscapes, cultures, and cuisines of deserts in the Middle East and North America have commonalities that have seldom been explored by scientists—and have hardly been celebrated by society at large. Sonoran Desert ecologist Gary Nabhan grew up around Arab grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in a family that has been emigrating to the United States and Mexico from Lebanon for more than a century, and he himself frequently travels to the deserts of the Middle East.
In an era when some Arabs and Americans have markedly distanced themselves from one another, Nabhan has been prompted to explore their common ground, historically, ecologically, linguistically, and gastronomically. Arab/American is not merely an exploration of his own multicultural roots but also a revelation of the deep cultural linkages between the inhabitants of two of the world’s great desert regions. Here, in beautifully crafted essays, Nabhan explores how these seemingly disparate cultures are bound to each other in ways we would never imagine. With an extraordinary ear for language and a truly adventurous palate, Nabhan uncovers surprising convergences between the landscape ecology, ethnogeography, agriculture, and cuisines of the Middle East and the binational Desert Southwest.
Arab/American “provides a sumptuous mosaic of personal and cultural history,” and offers “a delicious read.”
Renewing Salmon Nation’s Food Traditions describes a treasure trove of regional plants and species — some at risk, others recovering. We hope that it can serve as both a reference guide and a historical inventory of species that were once abundant in Salmon Nation.
At the back, this handbook also features a resource guide — a listing of nurseries and seed companies serving the region. With this information in hand, it is up to us to bring these fruits, vegetables, herbs, and shellfish back into widespread cultivation. Farmers can help by growing these varieties, and chefs and retailers can join in by featuring them on restaurant menus and at grocery store. – Debra Sohm Lawson, Director of Food and Farms Market Connections, Ecotrust
Nabhan, an ethnobiologist and nutritional ecologist, examines how our ethnicity determines our digestion. He explains why modern native Americans are prone to diabetes, and why Mediterranean diets generally work best for those whose forbears came from the Mediterranean.
He urges us to learn about the foods our particular ethnic group used to stay healthy in the home country, and to apply that knowledge to the food choices we make.
Mixing hard science with personal anecdotes, Nabhan convincingly argues that health comes from a genetically appropriate diet inextricably entwined with a healthy land and culture.
Move over Dr. Atkins–here’s someone who really understands what a body needs. In a homogenized world, it is delightful to be reminded that our cells and organs follow a much older and more complex set of instructions. Read it before you head out to the market for this week’s shopping!
Where have all these heirloom vegetables and heritage breeds gone? When Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá wrote about visiting the Pueblos of New Mexico in 1598, diversity on the farm and on the table was the norm—not the exception—across most of North America.
Today, roughly four hundred years later, two-thirds of the distinctive seeds and breeds which then fed America have vanished. One in fifteen wild, edible plant and animal species on this continent has diminished to the degree that it is now considered at risk. These declines in diversity bring losses in traditional ecological and culinary knowledge as well. Consequently, we have suffered declines in the food rituals which otherwise link communities to place and cultural heritage.
In recent years, the West has suffered from unprecedented stand-replacing wildfires, and the government has invested more money in preventative forest thinning than ever before.
This forest crisis has led to much controversy over the Healthy Forests legislation passed by Congress in 2003. On the Colorado Plateau, it has also spurred heated debates regarding the degree to which thinning can truly serve to restore wooded habitats and what reference conditions and or restoration goals are needed to guide such plans.
This book offers a primer for understanding how diverse land-use histories have impacted the health of pine-dominated ecosystems in the West and points to measures for better managing them in the future.