On Foraging

SFWeekly ran a really interesting story last week on ForageSF, the new service that offers CSA-like boxes filled with foods gathered from the wild. I think it’s a fascinating idea, but I won’t be signing up.

It’s not that I think foraging is too weird. As an ethnobotanist’s daughter, I grew up grazing on weeds. When my mom was here for a visit she reminded me of something I’d forgotten: the time I got in trouble at daycare for encouraging the other kids to eat Oxalis stricta, which I called sweet-and-sour, because it is. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible and tasty. I also remember going mushroom-hunting after rains with my mom, looking for white puffballs, and I remember her encouraging me to eat the ripe persimmons that had fallen to the sidewalk. She taught me which common berries are safe to eat (like sumac) and which are poisonous (like pokeberries), and which are okay to eat but simply don’t taste very good (like mulberries or false strawberries). I remember picking wild blackberries and wild strawberries for cobblers. Foraging is immensely fun.

But I wouldn’t eat something wild picked by someone I don’t personally know. Iso Rabins may really know his stuff. But I don’t know that he does, so I’m not going to eat the things he picks. Especially not mushrooms. You don’t fuck around with mushrooms.

And anyway, most of this stuff is immensely perishable. The point of foraging is to go out, scavenge, bring home your haul and eat it immediately, while the flavors are still strong and vibrant. Having a whole box of these greens at once would necessarily mean there was some stuff I couldn’t get to for days, and I’m pretty skeptical about how well it would last.
And on top of all that, I don’t see the point in paying premium prices to get someone else to do the foraging for me. Part of the delight of making a dandelion salad out of weeds from the driveway is that you feel like Sacajawea, wise and expert in the ways of the land, a real woods-woman. If I paid forty bucks for a box of weeds I’d only feel like a sucker.

But in spite of that, I kind of hope ForageSF is a success. I think it’s good for us all to realize how many common and overlooked plants are actually totally edible, to be aware of the possibilities all around us. It’s certainly a nudge to me to dust off my old copy of The Dandelion Celebration, and a reminder that when Robin gets a little bit older, foraging is something I really want to share with him.

One Response to “On Foraging”

  • Nina Says:

    Interesting! I can see the conflict. On one hand, the commodification of foraged food takes a big whack of the magic out of it. Kind of like professional yard sales (hate those).

    On the other hand, I’m tickled that someone can make their living foraging. And I love the “If you are interested in working as a full or part time forager please email us. We are willing to train.” I bet many people have stared at that and envisioned running away from it all to become a forager.

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