Have you ever thought about foraging for food? It is truly amazing how many edible plants may be within walking distance of your house! Keep reading to learn how to get started in food foraging, how it reduces waste and can completely change the way you look at plants. While we were out, we found some wonderful flowers for a bouquet to liven up our table as well. Get up, get out and get going... Food foraging is really incredible.
FOOD FORAGING: WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
I think that there are some misperceptions out there about foraging for food. People think that everything we should buy is at the grocery store. Others have told me that it's weird to walk around and pick things. Many people are worried about getting sick from picking the wrong things. What about pesticides? What do I wear to forage? The questions go on and on.
Let's talk for a minute about grocery store greens. There are a bunch of different greens at the grocery store, but there are so many more available to eat. I promise that your grocery store never carries Wild Ramps (a flavor between garlic and basil... so yummy). The high end grocery stores might have dandelion greens, but why pay for what you can pick yourself? Also, going out and finding your own greens reduces the carbon footprint significantly!
Is it weird to go around and pick things? Well, that's up to you to decide. Now, what I would not recommend is walking into your neighbors yard to forage without permission. They might take issue with that. But if you were to tell them that you wanted to pick their dandelions for them, I bet they would have no problem letting that happen. Typically, however, most foraging is not going to be in your yard or your neighbors. I'll get to that in a bit.
What about getting sick or ingesting pesticides? These should be your #1 concern when considering foraging for food to eat. Using local experts, books and consulting google will be your first line of safety when food foraging. If something is questionable and you don't have an expert to ask, it is better to lean on the side of caution. Only eat those things you are sure are safe. But how can you tell if there are pesticides? That's more difficult, but the risk is mitigated when you start to find the right locations to forage.
I made the mistake when I first got to France of picking up about 50 horse chestnuts. I thought they were regular chestnuts simply because the nut looks very similar. Before working on them, I did a quick google search and found that it would have been a really bad idea to eat them. I mean REALLY BAD IDEA. So they were sent to the compost pile. Lesson learned.
THE RECIPE REDUX: REDUCING FOOD WASTE FOR EARTH DAY
This month's Recipe Redux theme is showing how we reduce food waste in honor of Earth Day. I thought really long and hard about what to write about. At first, I came up with a list of things I could cook that would use almost every part of either the beast or vegetable. I'll include those later in the post because some of them are pretty good ideas that we used in our catering kitchen.
One of the items I really wanted to talk about was reducing waste before you even head to the grocery store. The idea here is to plan out what you are going to eat for the week and use one protein several different ways. Buy your vegetables sparingly as they tend to go bad first and so on... but then I took another step backward from there. Why even go to the grocery store?
If you really want to reduce waste, go out and find your own food first. I promise you that after spending an hour or two food foraging, you'll consume everything you gathered!
REDUCING WASTE THROUGH FOOD FORAGING
Here's a quick list of areas where we can help the environment and reduce waste by foraging our own food as compared to purchasing food in the grocery:
- Growing: Fruits and vegetables use copious amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides.
- Farming: Multiple issues including climate change, genetic engineering, pollutants, soil degradation.
- Processing: Massive resources needed for general cleaning, removal of leaves, washing, sanitizing and more.
- Transporting: Think massive warehouses, planes (to transport crops from around the world), trucks. The supply chain here is very long.
- Packaging: Ever take a look at your recycling bin to see just how much plastic is in there? Lettuce, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries all come in plastic clamshells. Buy loose veggies? What about the thin plastic bag we all shove our veggies into? Yikes.
- Storing: The grocery store uses a lot of electricity to keep our produce cool. Keep in mind that grocery stores also throw away a massive amount of food that we don't buy but they have to stock to keep the shelves looking full! Huge waste every day.
FOOD FORAGING CAN HELP:
- Bring awareness of just how wasteful we are as a society.
- To reduce waste and environmental impact.
- Deepen your knowledge of local plants and animals.
- Introduce you to new people. If you see a tree or yard full of good things to eat, strike up a conversation to see if the person has excess or would trade for something you make (think of canned goods or a pie!).
- Add more nutrients and diversity to your diet.
- Get you closer to nature to understand just how much is around us.
HOW DO I GET STARTED FORAGING FOR FOOD?
Getting started can be easy. Here are some ways to get started:
- Find a local Foraging or Wild Edible MeetUp group. There is a growing movement for food foraging across the country.
- Research your local county extension office. If you find plants that you are having trouble identifying, the good people at your extension office may be able to help.
- Read some wild food foraging books, blogs and field guides specific to your region.
STARTING FOOD FORAGING SAFELY:
- Remember that with food foraging, it should be safety first. Never, ever taste or eat a plant, mushroom or anything else which you have not positively identified. If you have any question in your mind about whether it is safe to eat or not, err on the side of caution and don't eat it!
- Stay away from major roads and walkways. These are often sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and may have polluted runoff from road sprays or other toxic chemicals.
- Try to avoid areas with lots of dogs! Dog feces have toxins in them that should not be ingested.
- Be respectful of your neighbors and the property of other people. If it is not on public land, ask permission first.
OTHER WAYS TO REDUCE FOOD WASTE
Here's a great list of other ways to reduce food waste from your kitchen:
- Buy responsibly from the grocery store.
- Check your produce for soft spots, mold or rot before buying them.
- Take lettuce bags / boxes from the BACK of the stack. Grocery stores need to sell food that is expiring first so they put the older food up in front!
- Purchase what you need and are able to eat within a couple days of purchase.
- When you have a surplus of vegetables, consider canning them. You are able to extend the shelf life out for months or years depending on how it is handled.
- Use your vegetable scraps for stock. If you're not making stock anytime soon, put them in the freezer until you make them next time. The stock doesn't care if the vegetables are fresh or frozen.
- Repurpose small quantities of usable vegetables. If you're making an Egg Salad recipe with celery, save the base for stock and cut the remaining stalks into snack size. Place in some water and hold in the fridge. You may also use the leaves in salads or salad dressings.
- Inevitably you will have food waste. There is no way to avoid it. If possible, start a compost pile rather than sending it to a landfill. You'll be amazed at just how much space organic waste consumes.
- I love buying proteins in bulk. Seems odd when talking about waste, but it really works.
- Cook a couple pounds of Pulled Pork or Shredded Chicken Thighs. Freeze them to use in quick recipes in the future.
- Save the trimmings for stock. If you're not making that kind of stock, freeze the trimmings.
- You may buy in large bulk quantities with friends (think of buying a cow or a full pig). This can be an incredibly efficient method to reduce significant amount of waste!
- Plan your meals around the proteins you purchase. If purchasing chicken breasts, try making Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Vegetable Medley on Monday and Low Carb Chicken Fajitas on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, make a Fajita Frittata. The best part with these recipes is using similar vegetables in all three of them as well.
- Freeze any unused raw proteins. When you need them in the future, pop them in the fridge overnight and you're ready to go the next day.
- Eat or repurpose your leftovers! If you have leftover sauteed potatoes, add them to some eggs in the morning. Same for most veggies: they almost all taste good with eggs!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON GETTING STARTED ON YOUR FOOD FORAGING ADVENTURE:
On my day out food foraging in France with my friend Giuseppina from the Venice in Provence cooking school we found some really delicious wild edibles. Here's what we made:
- Wild Leek Flan
- Wild Hop Omelette
- Bacon Braised Dandelion and Poppy Greens
- Wild Fennel Simple Syrup (delicious over strawberries!!)
- Wild Fennel Blanc Manger
- Dandelion Head Jelly
It was the perfect morning for to go foraging. The grass was covered with dew and it smelled of springtime. Who knows what we will find next, but I am looking forward to another foraging adventure!