Following the completion of my final environmental theory framework – titled with my overarching question “is there a place for wild foods today?” – I began the term with a very loose understanding of where I wanted to take a capstone. The inspiration and background for this project have remained very consistent: Foraging and wild foods are a hot topic in haute cuisine and acclaimed restaurants, providing a platform to combine and investigate discussions of how we interact with our natural landscapes (notably definitions of wilderness and the wild), what we choose to eat (e.g. dietary patterns). Despite some initial reluctance, I began using the term “foraged foods” to be synonymous with “wild foods.”
In the few months prior, including a month break from school, I pondered a variety of different methodologies that I would execute and pitched that I would assess restaurant mission statements and menus that market their use of wild foods for my more traditional capstone, accompanied by an alternative outcome in which I would “research, forage for, and cook wild foods I can safely identify and harvest.” I quickly found that the limited number of restaurants using wild foods (beyond mushrooms) would be insufficient to develop a critical and in-depth discussion; Similarly, the increased personal risk with foraging (due to my limited experience of Willamette valley flora and time constraints) required that I reconsider my alternative outcome.
Initiated by the presence of recipes within the numerous plant identification and foraging guides I had accumulated, I decided to turn my attention to how wild foods are used in foraging-based cookbooks. Within this investigation, I wanted to determine which plants are used most often, type portion of the plant is utilized (fruit, nut, greens, etc.), and how they compare to the store-bought/other ingredients in use. I also developed a small, foraging booklet that combines identification, harvesting, and cooking instructions for five introductory wild foods: cattails, stinging nettle, Oregon grape, field mustard, and dandelions.
Despite the changes, my initial predictions corresponded with my outcomes: the potential for wild food utilization has some potential prompt the reconsideration and diversification of an individual’s diet, as well as their consideration of the landscapes from which food can come. As shown by the prominence of ingredients familiar to those found in grocery stores, this does not take place in isolation from the ingredients, flavors, and cooking techniques that are in wide use. In the corresponding booklet, I also included a short discussion of the significance of safety in foraging, stewardship of natural landscapes, traditional knowledge of wild foods.