Monday, November 23, 2009

Pt. 2 of Greensboro Post: Dinners Gone Wild

When my cousin Brian told me that he not only forages for wild edibles in his hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, but he has started to put on wild food dinners, I was intrigued. Thus, Part 2 of my earlier post:

After the Harvest (ATH): How did your wild food dinners come about and what takes place at a wild food dinner?

Brian Heagney (BH): We had our second wild food dinner recently. Basically, I just invite a number of my friends who are interested in healthy, local foods. A few of us gather a little earlier to start preparing the food. Then, when the time comes, and people have arrived, we eat.

I don’t know if anyone else has any goals they want to achieve by attending these, but I personally wanted to start organizing these so I’d be forced to do more research and learn more about wild foods than if it was just me. I also know that I have friends, and they have friends, who know about wild foods, and I’d like to learn from them. Recently a friend of mine brought burdock root, something I had never had and have failed to learn about. So when I found out she was familiar with it, I asked her to prepare it and bring it.

Burdock Root

Longer term goals of mine include generating enough interest, or normalizing wild food to the point where we can get our city to stop spraying pesticides and other poisons throughout our park systems. Then, perhaps lifting bans on taking plants out of the parks so that we could legally and healthily forage for free food within our city’s parks.

ATH: So far what has been the tastiest recipe you've made using a wild edible?

BH: The best recipe for wild food so far has been Violet Saag, from Wildman Steve Brill’s The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook. It uses ingredients that are not wild, but a large portion is wild violet leaves.

Violet Saag

But, my favorite wild food right from the ground is a four-way tie: Wood Sorrel and Sheep Sorrel (tiny bursts of sour) and Black Locust flowers and Kudzu flowers (sweet delicacies).

Black and Honey Locust Seeds

ATH: For some sceptics who might think, "Umm I really don't want to eat twigs and weeds..." what would you suggest to them as far as introducing certain foods into their meals to make it tastier?

BH: For any skeptics, and I am friends with many of them, instead of creating culinary treats utilizing a few random wild foods here and there, I'd think that the nutritional value, abundance, cost (free), and lack of agricultural work would be the best way to get people to go ahead and try it out. So rather than tempt them with taste, I would suggest trying wild foods while out in the wilderness. Even I have noticed that when I'm inside my kitchen, the thought of going outside to get some chickweed to munch on comes second to the loaf of bread on the counter. And I think we are in a sort of culturally brainwashed trance when it comes to food, so if you want to really taste and understand the energy that comes from wild food, I'd suggest just to go out for a walk in the woods first. Get out of the confines of the modern house and shake off those domesticated food cravings.

Once you're out in the woods, look for a clover patch, since everyone knows what a clover is. When you find one, reach down and pick just one clover leaf and chew on it for as long as you can. Don't think it's going to taste good or anything, just try to understand and feel the energy it is imparting to you. Eat it. And while you're continuing to walk, notice how long that taste-energy lingers with you.

Next look for a pine tree. You'll know the pine by it's needles. Pick a cluster, they come in clusters of 3 - 5 needles clustered together in a pinch close to the branch. Chew on just one of the needles (don't eat it); it should be somewhat sweet with a hint of that famous pine-ness. If you didn't get a sweet enough needle, move on the the next tree and try that. I've found that each pine tree has it's own taste, and sometimes there's a really sweet one. But that's not the point anyway. While you're chewing the needle, try to feel the vitamins you're ingesting. If you were a bit hungry, you'll find that your hunger diminishes and your energy will increase as you chew and absorb more.

I only offer that exercise because that's how I personally have come to understand food, especially wild food. Food is medicine and energy. And at the end of the day, what do you want to be medicating and energizing your body with? It's either shrink-wrapped processed-irradiated-domesticated-weak-inbred varieties, or the wild-abundant-unmediated-healthy-strong-robust wild foods. I mean, I honestly don't know how one can not decide to investigate wild foods.

Many thanks to Brian and his friends in Greensboro for providing a look inside their wild food dinners!

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