Urban Foraging: A Feast of Weeds
Urban foraging, as it’s called, is the latest wave in the local-food movement, where “local” can mean a crack in the asphalt, and one adopts a relaxed definition of “food.” During a recent heat wave in Portland, Oregon, urban foragers Rebecca Lerner and Greg Monzel went hunting for a snack.
In the blazing heat on NE Alberta Street, Greg spotted a purslane plant in the dirt strip by a Quonset hut. The dirt was littered with cigarette butts and Wrigley wrappers, but purslane is known to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The leaves have a refreshing crunch reminiscent of Romaine lettuce.
Why bother eating weeds? Because one day it might be a matter of survival. As global warming disrupts our crops in the same manner that this scorching afternoon has browned the lawns, humans may need to learn to seek food from the margins. But Greg and Rebecca are having more fun than that. They seek to overturn the notion that food is something that must be bought from a store, or even grown in a field.
“We have this weird mentality that we hate these certain plants, for some reason. It’s kind of silly.” Greg said.
They also say it’s fun, spotting edibles where others see only overgrowth.
Recently, Rebecca tried to go an entire week eating only what she was able to forage in the streets and parks of Portland and wrote about the experience on her blog. It didn’t go so well. After five days of nearly starving on a diet of stinging-nettle broth, pineapple weed tea, and ant eggs, she awoke weak and seeing spots, and surrendered to the grocery store.
She learned that the success of foraging depends greatly on when you do it (few plants were in an edible state in late May), and that foraging as a modern-world practice works best when it supplements a more conventional diet.