One has to make it a priority to keep up with food trends that continuously pry into our lives through the hottest restaurants’ featured specials, or what’s getting the most likes on social media. From understanding the functionalities of consuming turmeric, to finding the most delectable yet easiest recipe for a mug cake, there is always knowledge to be learned by foodies and amateur cooks in our favorite realm of food. Though urban foraging has been on our radar for some time, it’s still curious why people continue to forage in a world that offers the amazing variety of grocery stores, the locality of CSA’s, and the convenience of planned meal kits.
In New York City’s international metropolitan food scene, urban foraging has been a way for foodies to expand their culinary horizons and eat with adventure without obvious cultural appropriation. Self-proclaimed “Wildman” Steve Brill started foraging tours in Central Park in 1982, so to say urban foraging is a new concept would be misguided.
In more recent years, others like author of 66 Square Feet, Marie Viljoen, forage for the love of utilizing available food for delicious recipes. Those like Viljoen share this lifestyle through dinner parties featuring dishes comprised of their amazing finds.
Urban foraging has found popularity across the country and isn’t just concentrated in the concrete jungle. In 2012, the city of Seattle opened what is the country’s largest forageable public space. Beacon Food Forest is an incredible public park where locals can pick fruits and grow vegetables year round. Planners hoped that the space would create an enriching congregating area for the many residents of Beacon Hill, while simultaneously addressing food insecurity.
Additionally, there are many more innovative projects addressing food access through foraging. Data scientist Caleb Phillips and Geographer Ethan Welty created “Falling Fruit,” a website and interactive map of locations around the world outlining plants and trees with edible bounty that can be found on your local neighborhood sidewalk and more.
Which brings us to our next reason why people forage—survival. For many of us, our earliest association to foraging would most likely be learning about hunter-gatherer societies in grade school. Foraging has roots in so many histories and geographies, but to this day it can be a necessary part of life for those who are food insecure. Foraging may have become a hip trend in the last five years in the food world, but it is essential to some who don’t have the same privilege of conventionally shopping for groceries. People with knowledge of edible plants and with limited financial resources will continue to find ways to forage so long as there is public space and hopefully little to no legal consequences. Cultural relevance should also be considered, as some communities may feel more comfortable locating and harvesting a plant recognizable to them, rather than acquiring ingredients from a food pantry that they may not know how to use.
It is important to reflect on the cultural implications of why people forage, or maybe don’t forage because of the social stigmas surrounding it. To some, foraging may be a fun opportunity to learn about new ingredients while reconnecting to our truest human form of cultivating the earth. To others it may be a necessary part of their daily sustenance. Coincidentally, whether you’re foraging for adventurous eats or foraging for necessity, you are participating in a larger statement about the nature of our society’s food system and the problems within it. Whatever the reason for foraging, it remains a hopeful foodscape for not just those wanting to indulge in the latest trends, but also for anyone looking for their next bite off the beaten path.
By Guest Blogger, Kimberly Conchada, C-CAP’s Culinary Scholarship and Operations Intern