Imagine yourself among a group of strangers washed ashore and isolated on a deserted island with only the clothes on your back and minimal survival tools. It is on you and your fellow castaways to find water and forage for food if you are to stay alive. Except in this instance, what we are talking about is not survival; it’s entertainment. It’s the program description of the new TV series “The Island,” hosted by survivalist Bear Grylls and based on a long-running British TV series of the same name. Clearly, this premise is not a new concept, but it’s one that works so well in a world where our skills at foraging and living off the land have been cleared from our instincts. The attraction for viewers seems to be in handicapping the varying degrees of success participants have in rekindling skills and instincts lost and forgotten.
But according to trend watchers, that vacuum of knowledge is starting to change – perhaps brought on in part by the popularity of such shows but to a greater degree from the movement toward finding accessible and affordable sources of fresh and healthful food. Today organics cost, on average, about 49 percent more than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, according to Consumer Reports.
A leading food trend in 2015 is a movement away from food cultivated on farms and toward locally grown food and food foraged from forests and fields. “Foraging” is no longer being associated exclusively – and often negatively – as part of the daily practice of the few remaining hunting and gathering tribes. It’s something that may well be going on in your own neighborhood.
This interest in wild food has prompted chefs to hire their own in-house foragers as they create inventive special menus based on this local wild harvest, some of which have been rewarded with Michelin stars. Foraging tours have cropped up across the country as farm-to-table dining gives way to forage-to-table cuisine, which enables people to directly connect with nature in a new and enjoyable way. This interest has also inspired local food tour companies to lead groups of curious eaters into the woods to forage for mushrooms, berries, nuts and roots, defining a new era of hunters and gatherers in the process.
If you live in an urban environment and don’t believe foraging is practical, think again. Foraging tours are being conducted in cities throughout the country as guides reveal an abundance of wild food in the city, including elderberries, hawthorn, rose hips, wild apples, papaw, garlic mustard, mushrooms and chickweed – a plant more commonly called a weed. It grows wild in yards, fields and pavement cracks in towns across much of North America and is now found to be a tasty addition to salads.
“Europe has embraced foraging for a while, and I think it’s really taking hold in this country now,” said Josh Lev, an herbalist and co-founder of the Wild Food + Herb Market, a holistic and alternative farmers market in Carrboro, North Carolina. “It fits in with this idea of getting back to basics.”
“I’m trying to build a community of people who appreciate the plants that grow around them and what an important resource they are,” he added. “We want to reconnect people to that kind of knowledge.”
Just a few generations ago, many things we now call “weeds” were considered food. Take the dandelion, long considered the bane of suburban lawns. Evidence suggests that dandelions were brought to North America on the Mayflower – for a reason, we can assume. People now spend billions of dollars every year trying to eradicate dandelions; others are just now beginning to recognize their medicinal and nutritional qualities and their plus factor in salads, teas and wines. And not all that long ago, milkweed, burdock and clover were viewed not as pests but as foods.
Such rethinking of wild plants is a trend that is being seen by many experts as one that could affect both how and which crops may soon be grown. It is already happening.
Millet – the pick for “Food of 2015” by Melissa Abbott, senior director of culinary insights at The Hartman Group – may be better-known to most as bird feed. Come to find, it has superfood qualities. It’s gluten-free, protein-rich and high in fiber. It also retains its alkaline properties after being cooked, which helps in reducing inflammation, and is an ideal solution for those with wheat allergies and sensitive digestion. And the best part: It’s local. The Great Plains, especially Colorado, are one of the world’s major millet growing regions.
People are finding that there is something uniquely satisfying about finding your own food. It’s like a treasure hunt. Others sing praises of the nutritional benefits and exceptional taste. Given that a recent Consumer Reports study revealed that 85 percent of those surveyed were concerned about pesticide use, the lack of pesticides when juxtaposed with mass-produced crops is also a major attraction. Adding to these concerns is the World Health Organization’s recent announcement that the most commonly used herbicide, glyphosate, has been found to cause cancer.
As to that walk on the wild side I have been harping on for the past few weeks? It can really build up an appetite.
Imagine lunch and dinner created from foraged foods of the day on an open fire. It is an experience that guides are providing around the country as we consider the thought. The best way to learn how and what to forage is to ask an expert.
Think of it as the kind of teaching that would have been passed down among the tribe in an ancient world. It’s knowledge that can reconnect us with the land.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.