Where five years ago foraging may have been seen as a curious pastime for granola types, today the activity is gaining ground. Foraging Futures describes the new food trend that’s driving sophisticated diners wild.
Inspired to eat local and seasonal foods, drawn to the thrill of discovering ever-present nature within concrete cities, Rurban consumers keen on bringing elements of rural life into the urban space are bringing foraged foods in from the wild.
‘As people become more aware of the origins of our food and ask more questions about the way things are produced, they are turning to a more natural way of eating without herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilisers,’ says Caroline Davey, founder of the Fat Hen wild food, foraging and cooking school in West Cornwall. ‘Wild food’s unadulterated state is a real attraction.’
A wild food renaissance
In fact, says Miles Irving, author of The Forager Handbook, we are heading into ‘a wild food renaissance’.
Consumers looking to become masters of this renaissance have their choice of bibles to refer to. Besides Irving’s hefty guide, new publications include John Lewis-Stempel’s The Wild Life: A Year of Living on Wild Food and Langdon Cook’s Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager.
‘There seems to be a universal inquisitiveness about wild food,’ says Davey, whose cooking class recipes go beyond heritage dishes to fold in modern-day culinary influences from around the globe. Fat Hen attendees learn how to make rock samphire fritti and nettle ravioli — a far cry from the caveman-inspired meals a lesser informed person may have imagined.
‘Top chefs and restaurants have been hugely responsible for raising the profile of wild food to that of ‘gourmet treats’ rather than ‘bitter survival food’,’ Davey says. In fact, Copenhagen restaurant Noma, which includes as much foraged food as possible on its menu, has now topped the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list twice in two consecutive years, proving that foraged foods have a well-deserved place in high-end cuisine. Up-and-coming Nomas include In De Wulf in Belgium, Pier Giorgio Parini’s Povero Diavolo in Italy and Fäviken Magasinet in central Sweden, whose chefs, keen on promoting the notion of terroir – a hugely sensory understanding of place – forage in the wild for the ingredients they cook with.
Even seemingly unrelated players are joining in the call to comb the countryside. Fashion retailer Diesel’s recent School of Island Life campaign offered free-to-the-public foraging courses in Manchester’s urban parks.
But will consumers’ enthusiasm for haute foraged cuisine and gourmet wild food weekends really change the way we view our daily bread, bramble or burdock? By its very nature, foraging is a time-consuming activity, one experts such as Davey suggest will likely remain a part-time hobby for many.
Nonetheless, the growing interest in wild foods is set to affect food retail as we know it. ‘An interest in foraging goes hand in hand with growing one’s own veg, and shopping ethically and sustainably,’ Davey says. ‘Wild food is just one part of the green movement that has gained momentum in recent years.’
In other words, Foraging Futures is as much about the many diverse aspects of self-sufficiency as it is about finding food in the wild. As consumers increasingly embrace foraging and the sustainable lifestyle it is a part of, rawness, roughness and natural blemishes will come to signify the values now appreciated in this new-era renaissance: provenance, a strong awareness of nature and its seasons, and a reconnection with the land.