By Janice Hopper

We’ve all heard of animals that are on the verge of extinction. Well, many Scottish foods are clinging onto existence too.
The Ark of Taste project was created by the Slow Food organisation to highlight the plight of endangered food and livestock, draw attention to the risk of their extinction within a few generations and take action to protect them. There are more than 3000 products listed worldwide with around 100 from the UK.
Some of the foods sound very exotic, take tree honey from Albania or candied walnuts from Argentina, but what about Scotland? It would be a proud moment if none of the nation’s traditional foodstuffs were highlighted, but that’s not the case. The current endangered list includes Scottish native black bees, Musselborough leeks and wild Scottish juniper to name a few, so what’s going on, or going wrong?
It’s not uncommon for a Scottish householder to look at their weekly shop, economically bulk bought from a large chain, to discover very few products were grown in this country. Cross-breeding animals and vegetables to make them grow faster and/or bigger has benefits but it’s eroding pure gene pools.  And economies of scale and mass production are impacting on small scale producers, especially those using traditional processes.
Slow Food Scotland argues that if a homegrown product disappears so does the ecosystem that flourishes around it – the insects that live on it, the plants that grow in its vicinity. Everything has a knock on effect. The movement hopes to protect the edible biodiversity of our planet by highlighting products threatened by intensive production methods. They’re going back to basics.
Wendy Barrie, leading convenor for the Scottish Ark of Taste, explains how a food or breed enters the Ark: “To get added to the Ark of Taste, it must be evident that Scotland is losing a genetic marker and/or a skills marker. A food must be distinctive, with its own terroir, back story and heritage. Foods, breeds and processes are usually nominated by dedicated producers and if a product fits Slow Food Ark criteria it’s submitted to the Scottish Ark of Taste Commission. From there, it’s also sent to Slow Food headquarters in Italy and the board of Slow Food Scotland. It’s a very rigorous process.”
The Ark of Taste is as much about people as it is about food. Centuries of expert knowledge and cultural traditions, from milling to gamekeeping to harvesting, are at risk of being lost if small producers shut up shop.  
In Skye, the local methods of producing sea salt from Loch Snizort were ‘extinct’ until Nanette Muir resurrected the product and secured a place on the Ark. Colonsay wildflower honey is new to the Ark too. It’s the passion of Andrew Abrahams and the only honey in Scotland made with native Scottish black bees (also in the Ark).  
Whilst there are other quality honeys produced in Scotland they use mixed breed bees therefore Colonsay’s honey comes from a unique genetic line.
The list of passionate producers continues. Michael Shaw runs the Golspie Mill, in Sutherland, grinding peasemeal in a traditional water-powered mill. The finished product is popular with the older generation but it could become the new ‘go to’ food for vegetarians and vegans due to the high protein content of the flour if it was rediscovered by young influencers.  
Wendy Barrie says: “With products like peasemeal most people don’t know what it tastes like, don’t see it in the shops and don’t have recipes to hand to get creative with it. Slow Food Scotland hopes to get such foods back on the agenda, get people talking about them again, cooking and loving them.  I like substituting half of my flour in recipes such as herby doughballs for peasemeal. It adds protein, colour and flavour.”
Occasionally it’s thought that PGI (Protected Geographic Index) products will naturally be added to the Ark of Taste but this isn’t the case. Wendy explains: “Stornoway Black Pudding is a favourite with many, but any pudding made with dried blood won’t fulfil Ark criteria. Only producers using fresh blood, such as Tullochs, of Paisley and Lawson Butcher, of Uphall, will find their black pudding on the list (whether it’s PGI or not).  
“When you speak to people doing things the traditional way,” continues Wendy, “preserving processes and breeds, some of them don’t think they’re doing anything special. They’re just doing things the way they’ve always been done, passed down generations. We help try to preserve these traditions and give them the respect and promotion they deserve.”
Once in the Ark, various actions can be taken: publicity and education about a food’s plight is one route; engaging with potential customers is another; and supporting the few producers left is essential. One of the movement’s biggest promotional pushes is its new Chef Alliance launched in September 2016 in Glasgow’s renowned ‘Ubiquitous Chip’. The alliance works in unison with leading cooks keen to highlight foods from the Ark of Taste.
One such chef is Graeme Pallister, owner of 63 Tay Street, in Perth: “Through my involvement with Slow Food I can see the importance of holding onto traditional processes as the world industrialises.  Food not only sustains life, but people and communities too. The Ark of Taste ethos ties in with my restaurant’s ideals of eating local, honest and simple food. At the moment the Ark of Taste products I’m using in the kitchen include traditional Finnan haddie, Shetland lamb, (fresh blood) black pudding and Orkney beremeal. I’m trying to protect and showcase the amazing producers and products we have in Scotland.”
What leading restaurants serve up today, people at home will be creating in their own kitchens in the not too distant future. Graeme adds: “Customers are definitely asking the right questions now, they care about where their food comes from and how it’s produced.  I love talking to my customers and being an ambassador for these foods.”
Consumers play a vital role in the Ark of Taste project but it is challenging. As the listed foods are relatively rare it’s often a question of actively seeking them out across Scotland at farmers markets, specialist shops or ordering online which is a time consuming way to shop. Visiting a restaurant within the Chef Alliance is a more pleasurable choice. In other cases consumers can assist by eating less of something: the Shetland duck is so rare it won’t be plated up any time soon, but if anyone was thinking of owning or breeding fowl then considering Shetland duck, rather than a more common breed, should help build their numbers.
Ark products are undoubtedly not the cheapest food on the market but ultimately for consumers it’s about choice. Slow Food Scotland asks pertinent questions – does the current generation wish to protect products so that our great grandchildren can taste, smell and experience the texture of many forgotten Scottish foods?  Do we want our descendants to be able to go back to original breeds and their undiluted gene pools for medicinal or breeding purposes?  
With each product we buy today we’re making a decision about our planet, our country and our heritage and we’re making choices on behalf of our children and their children, so perhaps we should choose wisely.

The Ark Of Taste - Scottish Products
Beremeal, North Ronaldsay Sheep, Wild Scottish Juniper, Shetland Black Potato, Shetland Cabbage, Native Shetland Sheep, Reestit Shetland Mutton , Shetland Kye, Peasemeal, Musselburgh Leek, Red Grouse, Dulse, Borerey Sheep, Soay Sheep, Isle Of Skye Sea Salt, Scottish Artisan Crowdie, Original Fresh Blood Scots Black Pudding, Traditional Finnan Haddie, Original Arbroath Smokies, Scottish Traditional Farmhouse Cheese, Anster Farmhouse Cheese, Pepper Dulse, Native Black Bees, Scots Dumpy Hen, Scots Grey Hen, Shetland Duck, Shetland Goose, Shetland Hen, Native Bred Aberdeen Angus, Prestonfield Rhubarb, Native Scottish Goat, Mr Little’s Yetholm Gypsy Potato, Mountain Hare, Highland Burgundy Red Potato, Isle Of Colonsay Wildflower Honey, Original Belted Galloway Cattle


Neil Forbes, Café St Honore, Edinburgh
Carina Contini, Contini Ristorante, Edinburgh
Marcin Medregal, Cannonball Restaurant and Bar, Edinburgh
Rosario Sartore, Locanda de Gusti, Edinburgh
Colin Clydesdale, Ubiquitous Chip, Glasgow
Zoltan Szabo, The Restaurant at Blythswood Square, Glasgow
Tom Lewis, Monachyle Mhor Hotel, Lochearnhead, Perthshire
Graeme Pallister, 63 Tay Street, Perth