Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Foraging, Permaculture, and Dumpster Diving have in common

So I realize: I've been very, very bad blogger. I'm sorry. But, I have a good reason.
My job has changed (as in my 9-5 one), as many of you know, and I'm now working on a social networking site for professional chefs and other individuals in the cooking industry, which is called Chef's Blade. I'll write more on it later, but the transition has been a twee bit of worky work, and well, it's exciting, but it's made me a bad food blogger.

But, anyways, back to the task at hand: Foraging.

Forage SF has been organizing the Wild Kitchen, which, so far, has been a mini series of foraged meals; the first one they had was Valentine's Day and the last one they had was this past Saturday. Both were amazing amazing and delicious. Foraged food, boiled down to the essentials, is food that has been gathered from naturally-occurring places instead of, say, farms.

Forage SF is a foraged food co-operative, whose goal is to collect foraged foods both from the urban environment – for example, from fruit trees in backyards and sidewalks – but also from the surrounding Bay Area and distribute it to its members. The foraged food movement has grown out of a desire to challenge our dependence on industrial agriculture and to begin using the foods naturally available to us again. For me, what is most interesting about foraged foods is the dialogue it creates with our agricultural system, not to mention the questions it raises concerning what classifies as “foraged”.

During the first dinner I attended, Forage SF gathered the food from a variety of sources. Some of the greens – such as miner’s lettuce, mustard greens, and wild nettles – were growing naturally in the Presidio while other ingredients, like the acorns used in the acorn ice cream, were foraged by local foragers, such as FeralKevin. All of these ingredients were noticeably fresher and more flavorful than anything from the Ferry Terminal farmer’s markets. Sad. But maybe I should just "shop" at the park at the end of my block?

Personally, the most exciting aspect of these ingredients is that they grow naturally and without the interference of human cultivation. In addition, foraged foods grow sustainably in that they are part of the natural ecosystem already in place; foraging and consuming wild foods is thus part of the ecosystem itself as long as the consumption is not greater than the wild food supply.Herein, however, lies the catch: It is not possible to feed the world’s population on foraged food. Enter: Agriculture.

Currently, most of our food comes from monocultures, in which farms produce one type of crop over large areas of farmland. While agriculture’s use of monoculture has enabled us to feed our ballooning population, it has also led us to eat only a few food types. In addition, monoculture has caused massive crop failures, such as the Irish Potato famine, due to a crop becoming susceptible to a specific pathogen during a growing season. Permaculture, in comparison, seeks to design man-made systems after nature ecological systems. Polyculture, for example, grows multiple crops on the same agricultural space, mimicking plant ecosystems. While foraging wild foods will never be able to feed our large population, it does remind us of the importance of respecting the rules of the natural ecosystem.

Back to the first foraged dinner: The main course of last weekend’s meal was elk, wild boar, and venison. What I find interesting about foraged meat, besides being totally tasty, is the dialogue around foraged meat. For some foragers, foraged meat must be found already dead, while for others, foraged meat is wild game that has been killed by the forager in its natural habitat, the sum total of hunted animals never offsetting the natural balance of the ecosystem. Thankfully, the meat at this dinner was not found dead, as I’m not sure my almost-always stomach of steel could handle the extra “gaminess” (read: bacteria) that could be found in the prior type of foraged meat.

I want to take a bit of a tangent at this point to talk about freeganism, a new food movement that has arisen in New York out of a desire to “forage” for free food within the urban environment. Freegans “reclaim waste” left by the “capitalist society” from dumpsters outside supermarkets and restaurants (also known as Dumpster Diving), as well as forage for wild foods like mushrooms in city parks. The movement is centered in New York City but, with the recession, it has become more and more popular in other urban areas. To me, eating food out of a Dumpster is strange. It’s not something I would ever do; I like to know where my food comes from and diving into a Dumpster for almost expired milk and eggs doesn’t exactly fulfill my desire to know if the chicken and cows producing my food are treated well. Still, freeganism has a core value I do understand: We, as a population, are wasteful and we don’t always take advantage of the foods that are readily and freely available to us.

For me, the foraged food movement, coupled with permaculture and freeganism, teaches a lot of lessons. As I said at the beginning of this article, the world’s population could not be fed entirely on foraged foods. This does not mean, however, that the population shouldn’t be fed partially on these foods. As our food system has become increasingly complex, it appears we have forgotten that we can grow edible plants in our backyards, our fire escapes, and flower boxes and that food sources such as wild mushrooms, greens, nettles, and other edible wild plants grow naturally in our parks and are there for the free taking.

Foraging, permaculture, and feeganism produce very different food but all challenge us to consume the foods that are available to us and not to waste the foods we have. In addition, wild foods as well as foods grown in polyculture are certainly tastier than our average food source.

I find it hard to fathom, however, that freegan food has anything on wild boar.

PS. Was this post worth the wait?


D$ said...


katie said...

Finally some movement on the blog! I thought you had left us for Chefsblade! Haha.

Great pics by the way.

The dinner was really interesting and interactive. I have yet to dumpster dive, although I definitely put food on the top of garbage cans, offering it up to homeless people/Freegans (if that fullfills you desire to classify and define subcultures.

I have no problem with offering my food.

I also "found" some miner's lettuce while "foraging" in my backyard.

Jacky said...

Yum! Foraged minors lettuce in you backyard!I want to go to Buena Vista park and forage for some lettuce soon...the greens from the farmers market just don't quite cut it the same way...

Christian said...

I just discovered your blog and I'm really excited to read it. Thanks for sharing and keep it up.

Question: I have a small group of Boy Scouts in San Francisco and one of the activities we're interested in is foraging for a meal in one of the parks in San Francisco. If you'd be willing to share some thoughts, I'd be thrilled to hear them (christianfberger@gmail.com). Thanks...

Jacky said...

Hey Christian; I'll email my friends at forageSF and see what there thoughts are. Places you can go to find foraged foods (like minors lettuce and nettles) are the Presideo and Buena Vista Park.

Iso said...

great post! thanks for taking those pics.