For those whose anxiety quotient hasn’t been filled by fears of snail dart extinction and global warming, there is now another impending disaster that hits us in our kitchens where we are most vulnerable. According to conservationist Jonathan Slaght, “the pine nut industry may be contributing to the crash of an ecosystem.” (Pesto? Hold the Pine Nuts,NYT 10/19) Apparently, most of our imported pignoli come from the Korean pine tree found in a rain forest in Russia’s far east where several species such as chipmunks, black bears and red deer depend on these tiny nuts for sustenance during winter. Memo to self: aren’t bears traditionally animals who learned to outsmart winter’s low food supply by clever hibernation?
Our greedy American demand for less expensive pignoli than the Italian Armani version has led to over-harvesting the forests and selling the nuts to the Chinese who sell them to us in typical “made in China” cheaper price points. This international trade is being blamed for the phenomenon of hungry bears leaving the forest to attack residents of Luchegorsk, a town you never knew existed and cannot pronounce that will now life in infamy as the innocent victim of white privilege and culinary cupidity. Mr. Slaght neglects to point a finger at the Italians whose telegenic chefs first taught us how to dress up spaghetti with the leftover rampant basil planted by over-zealous summer gardeners. I sincerely hope that Calvin Trillin gets wind of this crisis as he is the one who suggested changing America’s traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner to spaghetti carbonara. Admittedly, there are no pignoli in that recipe but the nudge to love Italian food became a shove for all readers of Trillin’s classic tome, “Alice, Let’s Eat.”
America, we can grow more of our own pine nuts and/or substitute color-coordinated pistachios in our domestic version of pesto. Or, we can stop worrying about the food preferences of Putin’s bears and say in the immortal words of Catherine the Great, “Let them eat borscht.”
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