Foraging, Part Two

I realize that I forgot to say what we ate the other day. We found (and for the most part tried):

grape leaves
wild carrot
evening primrose
elderberry (the flowers, no berries yet)
wild roses (petals)
curly dock
purple clover
Japanese knotweed
wild lettuce
ox-eye daisy leaves
violet leaves
wood sorrel
pineapple weed
wild garlic
water lily
white pine
anise hyssop

We skipped a few that needed to be cooked to be safe to eat. But check out that list. All those edible plants. In a fairly small place. In June.

Bountiful as it seems, we probably burned more calories finding them than we consumed. Despite enabling earlier humans to meet many of their nutritional needs prior to the emergence of agriculture, despite its continued importance in the diets of many rural peoples around the world to this day, despite being restaurant-chic in wealthy nations now, it’s not an easy way to eat.

When I posted the last entry, I promised that this time I would share some ideas about why it’s so popular right now. One forager, a guy named Hank Shaw who I heard on NPR a while ago (his cookbook is listed in the last post) said he suspects part of the reason foraging is gaining ground is that some people want to give up a little of their comfort and convenience in eating, that they see foraging as a novel and delicious alternative to consuming mainstream food. He likens the satisfaction to that had in eating a fish you’ve caught yourself: “it’s the effort that you’re tasting.”

I asked a few of my friends why they find it appealing, and their answers were different than that, but not inconsistent with it. Barbara described being filled with a sense of hope at beholding such abundance. Our friend Toni, who is in yoga training, said it was one more indication that what we see depends on perspective: what had been weeds yesterday were great sources of free and healthy food today. And Matt, who’s a Marxist, stressed the fact of foraging being free, with an impromptu and impassioned polemic about reclaiming our food from “the clutches of Big Ag.” Given how hungry we were when we left, I doubt “Big Ag” has much to worry about. Yet.

I want to add a few more possibilities into the mix. I think that foraging reconnects us to the visceral experience of eating, as home gardening and farming do, but maybe even more so. And it gives us access to flavors that are too particular to make it in the marketplace. And also to foods that won’t survive transport in a cargo container. In those ways, Mr. Marxist is right about them being anti-Big Ag.

Which doesn’t make it a totally exemplary experience. Foraging is not for everyone and not for everywhere. David is an urban forager, and he eats stuff he finds in the city, which I find that very, very nervous-making. I think about how many cars and trucks go by, belching exhaust that the plants inhale. That can’t be good for you. And since foraging requires a fair amount of time effort, it is only for those with knowledge and time, or those who can pay for foraged goods. I’m not suggesting that that is inherently bad. But it does mean that foraged goods are getting commodified, and that does seem ironic, to say the least.