While the concept predates human civilization, for many, the idea of "foraging" for food still seems vaguely exotic — a practice best reserved for the Chez Panisse kitchen staff, hard-core nature enthusiasts, or, perhaps, the exceedingly frugal.
Kevin Feinstein, a Walnut Creek-based wild edible plants expert, would like to change that perception. According to Feinstein, his new book project, The Practical Forager, will treat foraging not as an environmentally conscious hobby, but rather an overarching worldview and lifestyle choice — one with practical, everyday applications for anyone interested in issues of food and sustainability.
Having just completed a successful $10,000 Kickstarter campaign that will cover the cost of self-publishing — most of the money was raised in small increments, as funders essentially pre-purchased copies of The Practical Forager — Feinstein said he's now ready to buckle down and start writing the book he has spent the better part of the past fifteen years researching.
His plans are nothing if not ambitious. Not only will The Practical Forager include an in-depth guide to common edible wild plants, it will also serve as a cookbook, a gardening manual, and a treatise on GMOs, food waste, and various other ripped-from-the-headlines issues. Feinstein will address the question, "Can I actually live off the wild in this day and age?" (Answer: Yes, with caveats.) But more than anything, the book will teach readers how to take practical steps to reconnect with the natural world — a reconnection that Feinstein believes is the only way to solve the most pressing environmental issues facing the world today. And what better way to encourage people to do that than through the lens of food? As Feinstein put it, "Everybody eats food." Not everyone has the time or the inclination to, say, go off into the wilderness to meditate.
Feinstein said he loves the attention that high-profile dining establishments like Chez Panisse and Noma (the former "best restaurant in the world," located in Copenhagen) have brought to foraging — the fact that you can now find formerly obscure edible plants like miner's lettuce on countless restaurant menus.
That said, he stressed that the focus of his book won't be "exotic niche ingredients in gourmet cooking." The Practical Forager also won't be a glossy coffee table book, long on pretty photos but short on practical advice. And it won't be about providing jaded foodies with new taste experiences or sending them off on some truffle-hunting adventure — indeed, Feinstein's response to a question about his favorite East Bay spot for foraging wasn't some hard-to-reach mountaintop retreat, but rather "your backyard."
Hence, the "practical" in Practical Forager. Or, to borrow that tried-and-true aphorism, "It's more like teaching people how to fish rather than giving people a fish," Feinstein said.
Ultimately, if you define "foraging" broadly to mean the simple act of gathering food, then everyone is a forager — whether you're foraging at a restaurant or the supermarket or in the woods behind your house. And everyone, Feinstein said, can take steps to procure their food more directly from the natural world.
Feinstein is mostly known around the Bay Area for his foraging classes, which you can learn more about on FeralKevin.com. The website's URL alludes to an online handle that Feinstein adopted during the pre-Facebook early Aughts. "'Feral' [refers to] something that has reverted from a domesticated state toward a wild state, but it's not fully wild," he explained. At the time, he chose the moniker because he felt the word was an apt analogy for what we as a human culture need to do — to "re-wild" ourselves in terms of our relationship with food and nature.
Feinstein said The Practical Forager — which, in many ways, will serve as a kind of "re-wilding" guide — should be available for purchase by December 2014.
E-ville's Shiny New Food Pop-Up
We've written before about the Emeryville Public Market's efforts to reinvent itself into something more destination-worthy and, well, cooler than a standard-order shopping plaza and food court. The latest trend the Public Market is jumping on? The pop-up market.
Starting in October, the Public Market has brought in the Sacramento-based event agency Unseen Heroes to curate a series of weekly Thursday night pop-up events known as DISPLAY. Unseen Heroes co-founder Roshaun Davis explained that the basic idea is to take a relatively small space — in this case, the section of the Public Market food court between the ball pit and the rear entrance — and convert it into a sleek pop-up market that can be reconfigured from week to week to serve a variety of purposes.
The October pop-up series, which just ended, was focused on design. November's theme will be food, so for one Thursday evening (November 14), the space will be configured to form several mini classrooms, where, for a small fee, participants will be able to take part in a variety of hands-on workshops — on how to make pizza dough, for instance, or how to make organic juice. On another Thursday (November 21), the pop-up will be set up as an artisan food market, with stalls run by local food vendors as well as those from all over the greater Bay Area.
The food-themed DISPLAY pop-up will kick off Thursday, November 7, from 5 to 9 p.m., with a launch event that will feature a smaller selection of both workshops and food vendors. There will be workshops on holistic nutrition, pie dough-making, and gomasia (a Japanese spice mixture), among others, and the food vendors will include several of the startups based at the incubator kitchen Kitchener Oakland — Stroopie Gourmet, LulaMae Bakes, and Keena's Kitchen, to name a few.
Prospective vendors interested in participating in the food market or in December's holiday-themed pop-up series can apply via DisplayEmeryville.com.