1. Can anyone nominate a product or are specific skills required?
Anyone can nominate a product. The goal of the Ark is to create a vast catalogue, and to do so a wide contribution is required. Therefore anyone can nominate a product without being an expert, having particular skills or being a Slow Food member. It is possible to nominate a product from one’s own area, but also from other communities or towns, for example, a cheese, fruit variety or marmalade discovered during a trip or holiday. The only prerequisite is being interested in the product. It is in our interest as citizens to protect biodiversity, and this is the reason the Ark is designed to be open and accessible. The various Commissions will then look after the more technical aspects in the next stages.
2. To nominate a product, is it necessary to know the producers and to have visited their farms?
The Ark selects a product and not producers. So it is not necessary to know the producers or to have visited their farms. But neither is it enough to find a product in a catalog, museum, germplasm bank, botanical garden or on the internet. The question which must be asked is "Does this product still exist? Is it commercially available? If it is not commercially available, is it still produced for home consumption?".
We can discover Ark products by talking to old people, cooks, journalists, technical experts (e.g. veterinarians, agronomists, food technologists), market traders etc. Of course, if we can talk directly with the producer, we can obtain more detailed information, but it is not essential.
The Ark is a catalog of products at risk of extinction. An Ark profile describes appearance, color, flavor, what is known about production methods and culinary use. But it does not give details about the whole production chain.
To give two simple examples: an apple variety is selected for the Ark; subsequently it may be cultivated using organic methods or using conventional methods. Alternatively, a traditional cured meat product is selected for the Ark; it may be produced using native or non-native pig breeds, from animals raised wild, semi-wild or under a sedentary system etc.
The Ark limits itself to drawing up a profile, highlighting that a particular product is disappearing. It is an alarm signal, an appeal to take action.
Those deciding to do something practical to defend the product (it might be Slow Food with its Presidia, but could be other organizations, institutions or individuals) will have to then go further, identifying and meeting the actual producers, and analyzing each stage of the production chain.
3. Is it possible to nominate a wild product?
Yes, but only if it is associated with traditional techniques (of gathering, fishing, processing etc.).
Slow Food seeks to defend biodiversity not only in terms of germplasm (genetic material), but particularly as culture (local area, knowledge, traditional techniques).
There are wild products involving complex techniques, such as manoomin rice (United States), which is harvested using canoes, then dried and smoked, or wild Harenna coffee (Ethiopia), which is dried in the sun and toasted. Others use simpler techniques, such as Radicc di Mont (Italy), which is gathered in the mountains and put in extravirgin olive oil. Wild products are often used as food but also have cosmetic and medicinal uses.
Preserving wild products means safeguarding the knowledge that communities pass in order to preserve the ecosystem
in which these products originated and live (such as forests, mountains and lagoons).
In the animal kingdom, fish are the largest family to provide wild food. Here also it is possible to nominate a type of fish if a traditional fishing or preservation method is involved (salting, drying, smoking, etc.).
The Ark of Taste draws attention to these products, highlights the risk that they might disappear, and invites everyone to do something to safeguard them.
Sometimes it helps to buy and eat them, but in the case of some wild products (those at serious risk of extinction, such as salmon), it is better to eat less or none at all in order to protect them and encourage reproduction.
4. What are domestic species?
In addition to wild plants and animals, there are plant species that have been domesticated by humans, and animal breeds that have been selected by humans for milk and for meat. With domestication, a natural wild species enters the family and home environment and can be controlled.
Domestication not only involves planting a seed or taming an animal, it means selecting and therefore gradually changing a seed or animal so it better adapts to a particular area.
The FAO estimates that 75% of domestic vegetable varieties have been permanently lost. The figure rises to as high as 95% in the United States. Now 60% of global food supplies are based on just three cereals: wheat, rice and corn-not on the thousands of varieties of rice selected by farmers which were at one time grown in India and China, or the thousands of corn varieties which used to be grown in Mexico. Just a few hybrids selected and sold to farmers by a handful of multinationals.
Slow Food's first impulse was to take action on this issue of domestic biodiversity, or agrobiodiversity. So we don't only focus on the panda or monk seal, but also the Gascon chicken and Kempen sheep; not just edelweiss, but also Ustica lentils.
5. Can a processed product be nominated?
Processed products refer to cheeses, cured meats, breads, desserts, beverages, preserves and so on, which have evolved in order to conserve food (milk, meat, fish, cereals, fruit). These numerous products are fruit of knowledge handed down over generations in every corner of the world, the result of creativity and skill. The smallest variations can result in very different foods - think of the thousands of types of cheeses that have come out of the same three ingredients (milk, rennet, salt), or cured meats, where at times the only difference is the cut of meat, a spice or the type of wood used for smoking. Artisanal processing techniques allow the creation of particular products that are able to, more so than the raw materials alone, narrate a local culture and protect producers from fluctuations in the seasons and market.
Often a plant variety or local breed can be saved by giving value to and promoting related processed products (saving a type of cheese or cured meat can save a breed, saving a type of bread could save a variety of wheat, etc.) Slow Food considers processed products indicators of biodiversity along with breeds, seeds and domestic or wild species.
6. Is it possible to include recipes in the Ark?
No. The Ark of Taste would not admit, for example, chicken with peppers. The Ark of Taste accepts raw materials (a chicken breed and a pepper variety). The Ark of Taste would not admit tabbouleh (salad of bulgur wheat, cherry tomatoes, other vegetables and mint), but would admit a variety of bulgur (cracked wheat), a variety of cherry tomato, a variety of mint, and so on. These two examples are simple and obvious but it can sometimes be complicated deciding if we are dealing with a product or a recipe.
Here are a few criteria to help you identify a product and distinguish it from a recipe. Any one of these criteria is not enough on its own, but taken together can help to clarify the issue. Usually:
- a product can be preserved, packaged and transported; while a recipe is put on a plate and immediately consumed;
- a product can be codified: artisan products are very variable, but it is possible to write common production rules with different benchmarks that characterize the product (shape, color, minimum aging time etc). However a recipe is more "personal": each cook has their own version, each family adds or removes things. So there are hundreds of different versions of a product such as homemade agnolotti al plin;
- a product can be an ingredient in a recipe, but not vice versa;
- a product has one main ingredient (in cheese it is milk; in bread it is wheat, in cured meat it is the meat) while this is not the case in a recipe (soup, salad etc);
One of the most difficult categories to catalog in one or another family are soft desserts. Given that many soft desserts are rapidly disappearing from pastry shops and restaurants we propose including this category in the Ark of Taste.
7. Can a food produced only for home consumption be nominated?
Yes. A product that survives only in family traditions but is not present on the market, even if produced in abundance, represents an extremely fragile system that risks disappearing in the space of a generation.
In the Balkans and many other ex-Soviet Union countries for example, small privately owned companies previously did not exist, only large public cooperatives. In these countries artisan products have survived only in families, and now, little by little, some of these are returning to the market.
Here two different situations exist. Either a product is made exclusively by families for home consumption and is not sold. Or a product is also present on the market, but in a non-authentic version, with a standardized recipe or with different raw materials. In both cases it is important to nominate the product handed down in families before it is too late.
8. Is it possible to nominate the same product in several countries?
Yes, after having identified the differences, even if small.
Artisanal products are never the same because they are influenced by many factors: altitude, soil composition, climate, local knowledge, personal creativity and so on. When a product is found in many countries with the same name we need to investigate further. Ricotta, for example, is produced across Sicily, but if we dig deeper, we discover that they can be made from cow, sheep or goat milk or mixed; fresh or aged; baked; smoked; coagulated with fig branches, and so on. Couscous is produced across the Mediterranean, but looking deeper, we discover a universe of variations made of different cereals (wheat, millet, rice, corn) and of other raw materials (there is even a couscous made of water-lily seeds). And just wheat couscous, for example, can be made with different local wheat varieties, different sized grains, or flavored with dried herbs, leaves or roots, etc.)
When there are no apparent distinctions, it is because the differences have not been studied and described, not because they do not exist. In Italy in the 1960s, wine was red or white. Today a universe of different wines exists, which change according to the vine variety, the territory, winemaking techniques and ability of individual producers. Promoting diversity is fundamental to saving small-scale producers. Uniformity, flattening and superficiality (those who say "this product is the same everywhere") favor producers of large quantities at the expense of quality.
We can board on the Ark the pozegaca plum slatko from Bosnia and Herzegovina, wild figs slatko from Macedonia, green nut gliko from Albania. We can nominate Jabal ‘Amel freekeh from Lebanon, freekeh from Jenin in Palestine, or that from Idleb in Syria. For all these examples, the fact that the product is common in vast areas, often with the same name, does not imply that it is not at risk in any of the areas that it is traditionally produced.
9. Is it possible to nominate products already protected by certification marks (PDO, PGI, etc..)?
Yes, it is. To explain why, we need to briefly describe the main European designations and their objectives (these designations have in the past year or two been extended to Ark products in Latin America and Africa).
A protected designation of origin (PDO) denotes a traditional product, with a regulation defining the historic production area and processing techniques, while a protected geographic indication (PGI), identifies and guarantees that a product belongs to a precise geographical area in which at least one stage of production must take place.
It may therefore seem unnecessary to nominate a product for the Ark if it already enjoys visibility and protection, given that designations usually involve products available on the market in considerable quantities (obtaining designated status is expensive and only justifiable if turnover has achieved a certain size).
In some cases, however, the regulations governing designations do not highlight some features-only apparently minor-which precisely define the nature of a product. If they are not present, the characteristics of a particular cheese, cured meat etc. may be far removed from the memory a community has of the product.
Examples of factors which are often missing from PDO rules include: the use of raw milk (for a cheese), the use of meat from a local endangered breed (for a cured meat product or also a cheese), refining in natural caves or traditional old cellars.
In these cases nomination for the Ark of Taste is an important step in saving the most authentic version of the product.
When considering selection of a product which already has PDO or PGI status it is necessary to know what is specified in the European rules for the designation and to compare corresponding points in our nomination in order to
highlight in the profile which are the crucial issues that confirm tradition and a link to the community.
There are also European designations which protect products made by very few producers and in small quantities.
In these cases inclusion in the Ark of Taste is all the more important.
There is another small point which is very important to remember when publicizing Ark products to the press or at events: PDO and PGI products cannot be described using names that are different from those specified in the regulation (this is required by European law), In particular it is not permitted to add qualifiers such as "traditional, old, artisan" which could suggest that the quality of products listed in the Ark of Taste is better than that of the corresponding PDO or PGI product. The difference can be explained in the descriptive profile, not in the name.
10. Is it possible to nominate a product found in a written source or database?
It is very important to know if someone has already carried out research in the local area and if there are catalogs of varieties and breeds, cookbooks with recipes which also describe raw materials, or other documentation. It can also be helpful to visit botanic gardens, germplasm databases, plant collections in agricultural colleges, universities and research centers.
It is possible to find a wide range of interesting sources. But this is not enough.
It is not enough to find a product in a catalog, on the internet, in a museum or in a botanic garden to nominate it for inclusion in the Ark of Taste.
The question which must be asked is "Does this product still exist? Is it commercially available? If it is not commercially available, is it still produced for home consumption?".
We can check whether the product discovered in this documentation still exists by asking old people, cooks, food journalists, technical experts (e.g. veterinarians, agronomists, food technologists), market traders or talking directly with producers, if we can identify and meet them.
11. Is it possible to nominate a product identified by a commercial name?
No. Products selected for the Ark of Taste are common goods. They belong to the community, the local area where they originated and developed, to the people who handed them down over the generations and will do so in the future.
They are not the private property of a commercial enterprise. Any new enterprise or young person living in the area can decide to cultivate, farm or process an Ark product.
Therefore the Ark of Taste does not admit patented or registered trademarks belonging to
For example, the Ark would not accept Nutella®, though it would accept a cream based on traditional gianduia hazelnut chocolate; similarly the Ark would not accept Huguenot® cheese (a South African cow's milk with an invented name registered by the company that produces it), but will accept Caciocavallo podolico, Polish oscypek , or Pelardon affiné, which are all cheeses belonging to their communities; the Ark would not accept Marlene® apples, but would accept any of the hundreds of apple varieties which still survive around the world.
12. What is meant by particular quality?
Chemical or physical analyses are not sufficient to judge the quality of a product, but nor is tasting.
The origin of the product must be understood (In which area did it originate: in the mountains or plains? In an urban or isolated zone? In a humid or arid climate? In a well-defined or vast area?). The communities must be consulted (Is the product known by everyone or by a small number of people? Is it considered a high-value product, destined for festivals and ceremonies, or a poor-man's food?). Processing techniques must be understood (Is it a raw or pasteurized milk cheese? Is the curd cooked, uncooked stretched? Is the cheese fresh or aged?), as well as conservation methods (Is it smoked, wrapped in straw, etc?)
Then of course, we taste to evaluate organoleptic aspects. A product is interesting if it is complex, meaning if it evolves in the mouth, offering perceptions that change and last. A dull product will offer brief perceptions and finish on the nose and palate as it began, with the same characteristics. Tasting can identify potential defects (notes of rancidity, excessive acidity, etc.), identify the main organoleptic characteristics (aroma, taste, consistency), understand if there is equilibrium and harmony between the various taste and smell components, and if the product expresses its territory and typology well. At times an element that seems a defect is actually typical for that area, for the local tastes or for the typology. For example, bitterness in goat's cheese is a defect, but it is a typical characteristic of some alpine cow's cheeses.
In summary, Slow Food's definition of the quality of a food product is a story.
13. What is the importance of the territory?
Territory is a key element for biodiversity. It is not sufficient for a product to be just local. The adjective "local" tells us very little about the history and traditions of an area. It is possible to locally produce recently introduced improved varieties, hybrids or products unrelated to the local culture. The products that interest us, on the other hand, are strongly linked to their territory, not just as in terms of climate and environment, but also in a cultural and historical context.
Territory is soil, air, water and climate, but also language, dialects, religion, craftsmanship, architecture and landscape.
Far from its territory of origin, a seed, vegetable, fruit tree or animal breed becomes simply genetic material.
Edible plant varieties and animal breeds are best able to fulfill their potential in the territory in which they have acclimatized over centuries thanks to humans' activities. For this reason they are often more resistant and require fewer external inputs (fertilizers and herbicides in the case of plants; veterinary care, water and food in the case of animals).
They are therefore more sustainable, both from an environmental and economic point of view.
When you hear that a product is the same everywhere, that there are no differences between one region and another, between mountain and plains and so on (which happens a lot), don't give up, continue to ask questions. You will find the differences: it will be thanks to a particular terrain, the use of a herb or spice that is found only in a particular valley, and so on. The challenge is to try to link a product and a vast territory with a precise identity: an island, a mountain, the path of a river, or a group of hills. If you cannot find a difference, not even in the smallest details, it means that this is not such an interesting product.
14. How long is it before a product becomes traditional?
Some organizations have specified a minimum number of year after which a product can be defined as traditional:
this may be 50, 30, or even 25 years.
Slow Food considers that in fact a simple number of years is not enough to guarantee that a product is traditional.
The Ark of Taste Golden Delicious apples, for example, are grown around the world (from Chile to Europe and Australia) and account for 80% of world apple production. But this is not a traditional product because the link to a local community and area is much less important than the genetic component (i.e. the variety, which is everywhere the same because it is propagated from plant material and not seed). Yet this variety is a hundred years old and was selected at the beginning of the 20th century. The same situation applies to a vast number of commercial varieties of peaches, grapes, plums etc. which are at least fifty or sixty years old.
Slow Food answers this question by considering the collective memory of a community. To decide whether a product can be considered traditional you need to answer the following questions: "Does the product belong to local culture?
Is the knowledge required to cultivate, process and consume it passed down through the generations?" You can find this out by approaching the oldest producers in the community and asking them whether the product was already cultivated or processed by their parents and grandparents.
One response is not enough. It is necessary to check whether it is a shared memory. Some pointers that may be helpful: "Has the product left traces in local artisan handwork? Are there any artisan implements (of wood, copper, stone, reeds) used to work or preserve that particular cheese, or collect and dry that fruit? Are there mortars and baskets to hold that cereal?" Or "Are there traces in the language, dialect or folk songs? Has the product influenced local architecture? Are there old mills, small stone huts perched on the mountainsides, dry stone walls?".
In addition to older people, good people to ask are women, cooks, and food journalists, technical experts (agronomists, veterinarians, food technologists, etc.). It is also important to search the available literature: are there cookbooks? Books on festivals and local traditions? Catalogs of products?
It is essential to carry out cross checks by using as many sources of information as possible.
15. What is meant by a real or potential risk of extinction?
A traditional product's risk of disappearing can be real, in other words imminent, when the knowledge and skills necessary to produce it belong to one or a few producers, mainly elderly. It is not enough to have a written recipe or simple oral explanation in order to produce a cheese, cured meat or traditional dessert. Traditional processing methods are the work of artisans and learning the techniques means working with them for years. One must learn the skills, and acquire an indefinable but necessary sensitivity to be able to maintain constant the quality of a product even when the conditions in which the production takes place (the temperature, humidity of the places of work and aging, the time of year, the state of the animals' health, etc.) change. Only production line, industrial productions do not allow for the possibility of individual interpretation, but demand, on the contrary, encoded processes and the use of technology in most stages of production. The risk of extinction is real also when a product is made for home consumption only. Or when the introduction of ultra-hygienic laws swiftly renders places of maturation or production, equipment, or materials that are important for the characterization of a product illegal. In case of a risk of extinction, the risk is real when the number of units still produced is small (a few hundred or thousand). It is difficult to reverse a process of genetic erosion when numbers are so low. It requires a commitment from institutions, experts, and funds to support breeders and financing of reproductive projects. The risk is potential - in other words medium- or long-term - when the social situation (of producers or consumers) and the environmental situation (of the ecosystem) are such that a reduction in the quantity or number of producers can be predicted for the coming years. The signs of risk are many and diverse: changing trends in consumption; a market that no longer appreciates the product and pays very little, gradually reducing the profitability; depopulation of the area and emigration in search of new livelihoods of people able to traditionally produce the product; loss of generational transmission, alteration or disappearance of rural ecosystems and landscapes, loss of support from national and international agricultural politicies, and scarce attention by institutions. The looming threat of industrial products similar to the traditional ones, which confuse consumers and orientate them towards homogenized and standardized versions, can quickly expel traditional products from the market, as they are are more vulnerable, fragile and have less support from advertising and marketing.
16. What is meant by limited quantity?
On the meaning of “limited quantity” or “small scale”, the debate is open and the shared definitions few. It is, in fact, a relative concept that depends on context (the case of a Mediterranean island is very different from the Amazon or from the Sahel, for example) and the type of production (growing onions is not like producing saffron or an aged Alpine cheese), and it is very difficult to give a certain number or precise formula. In the case of the Ark of Taste (but also in other projects, like the Presidia and Earth Markets) we are interested in selecting products that could not be mass produced or industrial. In practice, “we are not able to calculate what is right, be we know very well how to recognize what is wrong” (Schumacher, 1973). The products on the Ark are tied to a specific territory and the knowledge of a community, and it is precisely these two elements that define their limits. It is not possible to increase the quantity produced over a certain limit without fundamentally changing the nature of production. If the volumes produced grow too much or too quickly (time is also an important variable), it increases the production area of the crops (which moves towards the model of monoculture), multiplies the number of animals being raised, intensifies the growing methods or leads to importing primary materials from outside of the production area (sometimes from very far away), and mechanises many if not all of the steps of the production chain, giving up craftsmanship at the risk of not obtaining the same quality. The Ark of Taste is a catalogue of products, not producers. Therefore, it is not necessary to have an exact figure of the quantity produced (data which is, however, essential to have a Presidium), but it is important to at least identify an order of magnitude, to establish if we are dealing with an artisan or an industrial product. To further understand this concept, you can read Small is Beautiful, published in 1973 by the economist and philosopher F. Schumacher.
17. Is it possible to use the Slow Food trademark or logo on an Ark product?
No, this is not possible in any circumstances.
The Ark of Taste selects a product and not producers. The Ark does not require knowledge of producers, their involvement or the production chain.
An Ark profile describes appearance, color and flavor. It is not necessary to know details about the production chain.
To give a simple example: an apple variety is selected for the Ark; subsequently it may be cultivated using organic methods or using conventional methods. The Ark limits itself to drawing up a profile, highlighting that a particular product is disappearing. It is an alarm signal and an appeal to take action.
So it is not permitted to use logos on the labels of Ark products, whether Slow Food (the snail), or associated organizations (the Slow Food Foundation, Slow Food Presidium etc.).
The Ark project can be presented in other ways, such as using brochures, booklets, articles and websites. But not using product labels.
18. What difference is there between the Ark and Presidia?
The Ark of Taste is a catalog of breeds and varieties (domestic and wild), as well as traditional transformed products, which belong to the culture, history and traditions of the world.
Each product is nominated through a descriptive profile which is the result of research by people around the world.
After collecting information from their community they fill in a form on the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity's website.
The nomination is sent to a National Commission (in countries where Slow Food has set one up) or directly to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.
These two bodies check that the nomination meets some simple criteria.
If the nomination is accepted, it is then sent to the International Ark Commission which, if it raises no objections, approves inclusion of the product in the Ark of Taste.
The Ark of Taste's two objectives are to highlight the risk that these products could disappear in the course of a generation or two and to invite the public to do something to safeguard them.
While the Ark of Taste is a catalog of products, the essential feature of Presidia is the relationship with producers and the organization of concrete initiatives to support them. Setting up a Presidium means visiting farms, finding out how the producers do their work and what problems they have, studying their social and cultural context, and researching their market so initiatives to support them can be put in place.
Slow Food Presidia take concrete action to protect a traditional product at risk of extinction (an Ark product) and are therefore the operational phase of the Ark project. But this is not all. There are another two categories of Presidia, which do not involve defending a traditional product. These are projects to defend traditional techniques at risk of extinction (of fishing, livestock farming, processing, or cultivation) or projects taking action to protect an endangered rural landscape or ecosystem (for example ancient olive groves or citrus orchards).
The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity provides technical oversight of the Presidia projects but local organization is carried out in collaboration with local Slow Food convivia, who support the producers in developing their Presidium and help to find a market more suited to their needs, by organizing events and local purchasing groups.
In developing projects, the technicians collaborating with the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity (veterinarians, technical experts, agronomists) help producers to identify and resolve production problems, improve product quality and sustainability where appropriate. They also assist producers in preparing production rules. Slow Food encourages producers to work together and create associations, cooperatives and collective bodies.
Events organized by Slow Food (Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto, Cheese, Slow Fish) are of great importance for producers: this is when they can exchange information, gain visibility, meet chefs, other producers and journalists.