Once upon a time, if you wanted to eat plant life, you had to hunt for it. Berries on bushes, fruit from trees, greens and herbs from the ground. If you could gather enough on your daily rounds, you could eat. If not, there was certainly no Kwik Mart where you could grab a nuked burrito and a soda.
In these days of scientifically farmed produce and feedlot meat, the ability to take what you need from nature seems almost mystical. Which is why scores of enthusiastic eaters in San Francisco are willing to pay $40 every couple of weeks to Iso Rabins, an urban forager whose perambulations in Bay Area parkland have produced the world’s first and only “wild-crafted” community supported forage (CSF) box through his fledgling firm, forageSF.
So what comes in the box? Wild mushrooms, nettles, greens, edible roots like radishes, all of it culled from the hills and valleys of the San Francisco Bay Area in a process outlined by local paper SF Weekly in this week’s spotlight on Iso Rabins and forageSF.
“On an unseasonably warm winter afternoon, Iso Rabins stepped out of a silver Subaru Legacy at the intersection of Walnut and Pacific streets, a tony corner of Pacific Heights that abuts the southern edge of the Presidio. Pausing to roll and light a cigarette, he hopped the waist-high stone wall lining the park. Behind him, rows of shingle and brick two-story houses climbed uphill into a bright February sky. As he stepped slowly and deliberately across an overgrown hillside bisected by a dirt walking trail, eyes trained on the ground like a man who had lost his wedding ring, the gentle ping of bats on baseballs rose from fields below. Suddenly Rabins froze, knelt, and began to nibble on a weed,” writes Peter Jamison.
“‘This is wild radish,’ he said absently, eyes scanning the ground as he masticated his find. ‘I’ve used it in potato salad, with wild salad greens. There’s a subtle flavor to it.’ A few more steps and Rabins came upon a patch of Claytonia perfoliata, or miner’s lettuce, so named for the 49ers who grew fond of the plant as a source of Vitamin C during the Gold Rush.”
The downsides of foraging? Park regulations, the possibility that finds are contaminated with animal pee, and the hard truth that nature doesn’t produce food to order. Oh, and there are some interesting details about poisonous mushrooms, still one of the easiest ways to kill yourself eating. Or just see some interesting hallucinations:
“In China … one infamous strain of wild mushrooms provokes an identical hallucination of xiao ren ren, or ‘little people,’ among all those who eat them. Many do so by accident — for example, after eating the culprit fungus in a dish prepared at a restaurant — and the resulting visions stir no more alarm among Chinese diners than an upset stomach.”