If you’re looking for the latest food trend when it comes to healthy eating and wellness, then you need to know about people who forage food. First of all, let’s break down what it even means to forage food, because most of us have probably never done it. According to Dictionary.com, the act of foraging is “the acquisition of food by hunting, fishing, or the gathering of plant matter.” And foraged foods are “characterized by or dependent upon the acquisition of food by such means.” In other words, foraged foods take the idea of farm-to-table to a whole new level. Think of it as more field-to-table, because you are actually going out into nature and gathering fresh, natural, wild ingredients from the environment around you. According to Sam Thayer, renowned author and forager, on his website Forager’s Harvest, “foraging is the missing link in modern civilized cultures–it is this direct physical connection, in the form of sustenance, that brings us to our deepest appreciation and understanding of the natural world.”
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So how does one forage food, and why is this food trend even a thing? First of all, it’s not a gimmick. Cooking with fresh ingredients makes a huge different in the flavor of your final dish and the way you cook. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t tried it, but in an article for The New Yorker, Jane Kramer does a pretty good job of putting words to her experience. She notes “wild asparagus has a tart, ravishing taste—what foragers call a wilderness taste—and a season so short as to be practically nonexistent. It’s as different from farmed asparagus as a morel is from the boxed mushrooms at your corner store.” These observations, among others, were learned when she spent the summer foraging. She also notes that above all else, foraging shows people that “only a small fraction of the planet’s bounty gets to anyone’s dinner table,” and that “most of us eat only what we know. It’s time to put on our boots (or our sneakers) and look around.” Scavenging for wild food allows you to experience how food is supposed to taste, as opposed to how it tastes after being cultivated, farmed or tampered with.
Beyond the taste-related benefits of foraging food, gathering fresh ingredients also allows you to be more creative with your cooking, because you are forced (or encouraged) to think outside the culinary box and work with what you find at that moment. And foraging isn’t just reserved for individuals and home cooking. Business Insider reports that “some of the most highly rated restaurants in New York—Gramercy Tavern, The French Laundry, and Momofuku Ssäm Bar among them—have hired professional foragers to supply them with the freshest ingredients Mother Nature has to offer. This brings creativity, authenticity, and quality to the menu like never before.”
As far as health and wellness benefits, Ashley Litecky Elenbaas, MSc., RH (AHG), explains, “the primary benefit of wild foraging is that it connects you to the biome and ecosystem where you are living. Eating off the ground where you live literally roots you to your location.” Other benefits include that you’ll be physically active as you hunt for your food, which promotes a healthy lifestyle. And because you’ll be picking your ingredients fresh from the ground, all the nutrients will be in tact, as opposed to processed foods which lose some of their nutritional content as they are preserved.
So where do you begin if you’re interesting in cooking with foraged food? Well the good news is you don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to search for wild ingredients. Yes, you can forage at your local farmer’s market if you can’t exactly make it to the woods or the coast. And do your research first. Of course there are some wild vegetables you will find that are inedible, so make sure you know what you are looking for, and what you are looking to avoid. According to master forager Evan Strusinski, it’s pretty easy to learn the basics of foraging as long as you reference informational books and field guides. “If you know how to find a carrot in the grocery store, you could not misidentify a chanterelle mushroom,” he explains. So while it might take some practice and research, the effort is worth it according to the experts. Once you work with foraged food you’ll never go back.