The Ancient Wisdom in Foraging for Food & Syncing Our Diets with Nature’s Cycles
rē•think the way you interact with nature.
The practice of foraging has existed for millennia, rooted in Indigenous cultures. Yet the age-old practice has made a modern-day, public comeback on social media and across food blogs globally. These days the conversation around foraging takes place in modern-day settings and cityscapes. Once relied on out of necessity, back before grocery stores existed, the modern forager benefits from time spent in nature while syncing their diets to the natural rhythm of the seasons. Bit by bit, it also teaches the power in self-cultivation; weaning us off of total reliance upon the big industry.
What Exactly Is “Foraging”?
Foraging, by definition, is the process of searching for food or provisions that date back to when our hunter-gatherer ancestors sought nourishment to survive. For an estimated 95% of our time on earth, humans have sustained themselves by foraging their natural environments for food.
In more recent years, the act of foraging has not been done out of necessity, per se. But there are merits to consuming seasonal, local food sources — including from our home gardens — that range from sustenance to sustainability. By gathering and cultivating your own food, you actually align your diet with the cycles of the seasons, connecting you with the inherently human experience of nourishing your bodies, minds, and souls with acts of self-sustenance.
Why Forage in Modern Times?
Chef Alan Bergo has spent nearly two decades as a professional chef, specializing in creating dishes made with local and wild foods at restaurants such as the Heartland Restaurant, The Salt Cellar, and Lucia’s Restaurant. He’s also one of the country’s leading culinary authorities on mushroom-hunting Andrea foraging. He documents his passion for finding the best wild-harvested ingredients on his website, Forager Chef, and in his upcoming cookbook, The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora.
Chef Bergo acknowledges that it can be easy to feel disconnected from the cyclical nature of food in modern times because we are separated from the cultivation process. We also have access to seemingly every ingredient no matter the season. This accessibility-driven risk of disconnection from nature’s food rhythm is even more troubling for chefs.
As he tells rē•spin, his appreciation for vegetables was a gift imparted to him by foraging. The message of his book is that humans possess an innate, unaccessed intuition when it comes to food sourcing that can be unearthed and rē-claimed through practice. “Your food will taste better and you’ll be more proud of it,” he explains. “I feel like now [when] I go outside, it’s like I have my hand on the pulse of nature. I know what is coming, I know what has passed, I know what is ready right now, and I instinctively know what I want and what’s going to happen. It’s like an instinct.”
Chef Bergo believes that these instincts are hardwired into us. Once rooted in survival, there is genuine joy and excitement to be had in finding things to nourish the body. This is a learned skill-set and sense that we have evolved with but forgotten. By rē-connecting with this part of humanity’s earthly lineage, he explains that you can begin thinking of nature as one big, natural grocery store that takes organic to the next level. Everyone deserves to feel excited – and creative – when it comes to their sustenance.
How to Start Foraging
If you’re interested in foraging, Chef Bergo has a few suggestions. For one, toolkit guides like those written by Sam Thayer of Forager’s Harvest can educate you on the world of edible vegetation. Consuming something that you find might make you nervous (and with good reason), but with knowledge and practice, it gets easier in time. He also recommends apps that can recognize flora via AI, but with the understanding that it is not the end-all, be-all of identifying a plant. He says that the best way to get started is through hands-on experience with a local guide and expert.
To Chef Bergo, foraging is a way of life and not just a practice. He is also interested in exploring and celebrating how wild-harvested ingredients are cooked around the world. “It’s about the willingness to look beyond the status quo for exciting and unconventional ingredients,” he writes. “It’s a desire to have a more personal, meaningful, and gratifying relationship with our food.”
Want a sneak peek of Bergo’s upcoming book? Try out his recipe for Hindbeh (Lebanese dandelions with caramelized onions).
- Any wild green (try chicory or dandelions)
- One white onion
- Olive oil (or lard)
Method of Preparation:
- Cut the top and bottom from the onion, remove the skin, and halve it top-to-bottom. Set the halves, cut-sides down, on a cutting board, and halve them through the equator. Slice the onion into 1-inch (2.5 cm) julienne, as thin as you can.
- In a 10-inch (26 cm) skillet or similar wide pan, heat the lard or oil until very hot, then add the onion and turn the heat down to medium. Season with a pinch of salt and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is deeply browned and aromatic, deglazing with a tablespoon of water as needed if the pan threatens to dry out (I like my onion quite dark).
- Remove half of the onion and reserve.
- Meanwhile, cook the greens in salted water until they’re tender and taste good to you, then shock in cold water, drain, squeeze out excess water, and coarsely chop.
- Add the greens to the pan with the onion, mix and warm them through, adding the cumin and a little water if needed to moisten.
- Taste and correct the seasoning for salt and pepper, then top with the reserved onion and serve hot with lemon wedges and drizzles of extra virgin olive oil.