What is the first food that comes to mind when you hear "foraged"? My guess is that a mushroom came to mind. While it's true that most mushrooms are grown in the wild, there's an abundance of other wild plant foods that are much easier to find and identify.
Just because these wild plants are out there, does that mean we should eat them? My colleagues and I of Berkeley Open Source Food (BOSF) are arguing yes. Here's why:
Nutrition: When the human diet shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture some 10,000-20,000 years ago, we began the process of selecting certain monocultures for specific characteristics. Decreasing agricultural diversity had benefits, including population growth, but also led to a decrease in a variety of nutrients, particularly phytonutrients, causing the Western diet to have a much narrower range of nutrients today than it did thousands of years ago. These phytonutrients may reduce our risk for modern chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Incorporating more wild foods into our diet might help reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Sustainability: It's no secret that California is experiencing a massive drought. These wild plants require no water beyond what nature provides, are largely drought-resistant, and are abundant in urban environments. Additionally, if we can make it profitable for farms to harvest and sell their edible "weeds" rather than compost them, we'll increase farm efficiency. Finally, of course we also all have Armageddon in the back of our minds (or at least I do) and knowing about wild edible plants will set us up for success when the time comes!
Culture: When was the last time you picked your food from the ground? How did it taste? Did it give you a warm fuzzy feeling? Research indicates that even children who are reluctant to try vegetables will do so if they have a hand in harvesting them and foraging is no different. By knowing where our food comes from, we're helping get back to where we started, if even just a bit, which will result in improved quality of life.
Gastronomy: Let's face it, new, crazy ingredients are fun. Even if you don't want to "get wild" with wild foods personally, it's exciting to go to a restaurant and have them introduce you to a new, delicious, local plant, no?
So, the next question is - how do we get these tasty, nutritious, and abundant plants on people's plates? The answer is multi-faceted, exciting, and challenging. A few of the angles we're taking to tackle the issue include mapping wild edibles in "food deserts", investigating barriers to consumption (and identifying how to overcome these barriers), creating a supply chain and market for wild foods, and promoting consumption of wild edibles.
One project on BOSF's foraged plate now is Wild Food Week, which begins tomorrow (4/4) and runs through Friday 4/10. Our intention with Wild Food Week is to increase awareness of and interest in wild edibles with a series of events from a guided foragers’ walk to dinners at César, Chez Panisse, The Perennial/Mission Chinese Food, and Mission: Heirloom. We are working with several local farms to source the edible weeds and will debut a foraging field guide called The Bay Area Baker’s Dozen Wild Greens. See event details here.
It's been an exciting and eye-opening journey with many unique challenges. I look forward to telling you more about these challenges as well as a debrief on the events and our successes. For now, here's a sneak peak of the top 13 most common wild edibles in the Bay Area that we've included in the Bay Area Baker's Dozen Wild Edibles field guide. If you donate $15 or more to Berkeley Open Source Food, we'll mail you a field guide of your very own! Just be sure to mention this in the "additional details about my support" section. Donate here.
Here's an idea of what the field guide looks like - donate at least $15 to Berkeley Open Source Food and we'll send you one!
We've had a lot of press for this event - check it out!
Gibbons, E., 1962. Stalking the Wild Asparagus, David McKay Co., Inc., NY, 303pp.
Robinson, J. “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food”. The New York Times, 2013.
Craig, W. “Phytochemicals: Guardians of our health.” J Am Diet Assoc. 1997;97:199-204.