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May  2016

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Being part of the solution…

 

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I’ve received tons of praises with the release of my book from the foraging and culinary community but recently I have also received some concerns from folks worried about the concept of foraging and our natural habitat /native plants. I exchanged emails and ideas with a few of them and to be frank, I actually agree with them.

 

My book is really about creative recipes and making gourmet food using wild edibles but there is another issue that needs to be tackled if one wants to explore the flavors of a local (wild) terroir: How do we go about it and how do we manage to help the environment in the process? How can a wildcrafted cuisine exploring the flavors of a local terroir exist and be part of the solution instead of a problem?

 

So moving forward, the focus of this web site is shifting somewhat slightly and my future classes/workshops will reflect some issues brought to my attention and below is why. That said, I am open to engaging in compassionate and constructive dialog and working together with various groups  as part of the solution and hope you will be, too.

 

Factually, there is no doubt that the interest of incorporating wild foods into our meals is becoming increasingly popular. On social media, there are countless groups dedicated to foraging and eating wild foods, some with membership in the tens of thousands. Every week it seems, new books on the subject are being published and countless articles are being written about chefs/restaurants using foraged ingredients.

 

While it is fine to learn what plants are edibles, delicious recipes, etc…, what is often missing is: how do we go about it the right way?

 

From a culinary perspective, in the past 10 years a huge foraging push toward the exploration of a local terroir was also started by restaurants such as Noma (ranked #1 in the world) and other prestigious ones. As a result many chefs are also eager to do the same, forage themselves and incorporate local wild food into their craft.

 

Similarly, some local companies are looking in that direction (using the local terroir), for example Ventura Spirits company is now making vodka with prickly pear cactus fruits, sagebrush, yerba santa, purple sage and other herbs, Craftsman Brewing Company is creating beers with such ingredients as acorns or white sage and there are many more companies experimenting with local flavors.

 

Some people may see it as “just” a trend but I think it is bigger than that. As our modern society moves further and further away from the natural world, threaten our natural habitat through invasive urbanization, increase the amount of pollution and various other environmental issues, I perceive it as an actual movement from a part of the population with the aim to reconnect to the natural world and mother Earth. I don't feel foraging is just a trend, I also see a real resurgence with many activities related to nature such as plants-based alternative medicine, the quest for more nutritious foods, herbalism, earth-based spirituality and so on…

 

With this new popularity of learning about and eating wild edibles, the over harvesting of plants can become an issue that should be addressed. Through social media or with my own eyes, I have too often witnessed how the commercialization of specific wild ingredients such as ramps or white sage locally (usually packaged for smudging) can create havoc in an environment if not done properly.

 

From a foraging/wildcrafting perspective, we have to take responsibility and find ways to deal with it.

 

Factually, in Southern California, the vast majority of what people forage are non natives plants such as lamb's quarter, nettles, curly dock, many types of mustard, figs, chervil, fennel, horehound,  mallow, sweet white clover, olives, wild radish, filaree, perennial pepperweed, nasturtium, wood sorrel, London rocket, grasses and so on. In fact many of these plants have effectively destroyed some parts of our environment. In Topanga Canyon we have forests overtaken by nasturtium and where I live, wild mustard is covering our local hills. The issue is how do we, in our quest for local flavors, also incorporate some of our more native plants and do it properly.

 

The concept of wildcrafting must include ethical considerations such as protecting endangered species, helping the habitat and benefiting the environment rather than working against it.

 

As such, I think we must do our part by getting ourselves educated and educating people on sustainable foraging on private land, our local flora (including endangered plants) and how to protect it, getting involved with local native plants nurseries, participate in habitat restoration efforts, encourage people to grow native plants and do it too, create our own native plants gardens for research and use, offer seeds, plant more than what we will ever use and help the environment through the removal and use of edible non-natives.

 

It's not a radical concept, it's the right way to approach the subject.

 

I'll still research edible plants and their culinary uses but I'll also look for ideas and solutions to figure out how the foraging trend and the desire for people to explore new flavors and create a cuisine based on the local terroir can be achieved successfully, not just in terms of sustainability but in a way that will actually help the environment.  In a sense, I totally agree with the folks who expressed concerns and let’s think in terms of solutions.

 

A true wildcrafted cuisine should be in tune with and help the environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black mustard, one of the many invasive wild edibles found in Southern California

Turning mustard into a gourmet condiment.

Pickled wild radish pods.

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