Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Foraging for trouble

I have to admit I was a bit gobsmacked by this radio interview about the latest trendy food thing called "foraging". This is where people pick edible herbs, flowers, fruits etc from local suburban (and inner-urban) nature strips and waste ground areas.

The host, Annabel Crabb, interviewed the head chef at a very well regarded Sydney Restaurant. I've dined there and the food is delicious, the staff lovely too. 

The chef seems an ethical, decent fellow in every way, and he certainly can cook. If there is fruit to "forage" growing inside a person's yard, he knocks on the door and asks permission from the owners. He is also aware of the health risks of foraged food (listen to the audio link).

However, I am afraid that as an organic gardener I think the whole idea of "foraging" for food in urban areas is about as risky as asking people to go looking for wild mushrooms in the forest. It can be done by experts, but I wouldn't encourage beginners ... there's toadstools in those forests, as some have discovered the hard way, and I think there are health dangers on those grassy suburban verges, too.

So, what's my beef with foraging for things like fruit, flowers, herbs and, sometimes, vegies in our streets? Three main ones.

1. Cats and dogs marking their territory on urban and suburban nature strips. They do that rather a lot ... I wouldn't want to eat food tainted with their signature dish.

2. Weed spraying activities over the last few decades by local councils have probably rendered the soil in many nature strips into a toxic brew which might take decades or more to break down. As far as I am concerned, no food plants should be grown on urban nature strips, unless the soil has been thoroughly tested and passed as healthy. Even if councils have adopted eco-friendly spraying policies now, what did they use in the 1980s, the 90s and the early 2000s?

3. This goes back to the mushroom harvesting analogy, plus that modern expression: "What could possibly go wrong?". Well, lots (such as harvesting something that is inedible, or worse). So encouraging inexperienced foragers to get out there and harvest their own foods from roadsides ... it's not something I'll ever encourage. 

To me, it's ironic that with everything "organic" being so trendy, these days, that something so diametrically opposite in its healthiness as foraging could also be trendy... with the same crowd.

And so folks, I think this is my first ever blog posting without any pretty pictures. I don't want to encourage any more foraging, you see.