So many people play fundamental, innovative roles in the art & business of writing and publishing that seldom get the acknowledgement the deserve. Of the C’s I could mention, from ethnobotanist and food scholar-activists like Kimberlee Chambers and Patricia Colunga Garcia-Martin to designer Joan Carstensen and historian-food ethnographer Ernesto Camou Healy, let me just focus on two of my dearest friends and mentors.
Makalé Faber-Cullen — artist, cultural anthropologist, curator and ethnographer of food, craft and music traditions — has mentored, guided and inspired me for years from home in Brooklyn, not far from my Lebanese family’s first homes in Amirka.
Makale came into the Slow Food USA staff coordinated by Erica Lesser just as we ramped up the Renewing America’s Food Traditions of five non-profits that had never really collaborated much with each other before. But her good will, organizational instincts and respect from diverse ethnic traditions galvanized us into a dream team. Makale and I criss-crossed the continent together hosting regional workshops on rare and disappearing foods, then worked for months writing up the participants’ observations and recommendations into regional listings and collections of personal essays by farmers, chefs and culture-bearers.
That grassroots based-informed by but not controlled by food scholarship and conservation assessments became the core of what is now listed as endangered foods on the Slow Food Ark of Taste for North America. No one else on our team had the artful talents and cross-cultural skills that Makale embodied. She was the anchor to all that emerged out of RAFT that gradually became part of Slow Food’s culture. She continues her consulting, curating and organizing for a dozen other non profits and community alliances.
Then there is the the living legacy of that ecstatic gardener, field photographer, entomologist and heritage foods cook David Cavagnaro. How many people do you know who grew up in California that decided to resettle in the Midwestern hills of Iowa so that they could expand their horizons in gardening, plant conservation and nature photography half way through their life’s journey.
I first saw David’s insect collections and photography when I went out to the Galapagos with Steve Trimble, Jono Miller and other naturalists in the early 1970’s. David had already been there collecting insects on a CAL Academy expedition just as he had been to Egypt, India and Ethiopia when he was barely out of high school, making thousands of collections that led to the description of dozens of new insect species. But many of the admirers of David’s award-winning photography in myriad magazines and in the film Never Cry Wolf have the least idea of David’s earlier passions and contributions.
Yes, he mentored me in field photography as we crawled around on our bellies in a tall-grass prairie at dawn once, but he also traveled with me to Ethiopia and Egypt when I was working on the book Where Our Food Comes From for Ken Wilson and Island Press. Ultimately what David taught me was how to be unabashedly in love with the world around us and to embrace rather than dismiss the mystical gifts that are just outside our screen door.
For me David Cavagnaro is up there with Walt Whitman and Annie Dillard, Brian Doyle and Patti Ann Rogers, Sarah Lindsay and Rachel Carson in exuberantly celebrating the richness of American landscapes and seascapes. One true mystic, David is.