Some Like it Wild

An Analysis of Foraged Foods and Perceptions of Taste

L. Sasha Gora

 

A nursery has several small strawberry plants for sale. One of them is labelled “wild”. But if it is available to purchase and plant, is it still wild? And, most importantly, how do we imagine this label of wild to influence the strawberry’s taste?
My proposal for the 2017 Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food tackles the relationship of taste to social relations (and power), as well as how taste is represented when it comes to wild versus domesticated foods. How do we perceive wild and foraged foods to taste differently than those bought from a grocery store or grown in one’s garden? And how is this difference in taste then translated into how foods are valued and priced?
In Western urban centres with well-stocked grocery stores and great variety, what appeal do wild, foraged foods have? Because of an increasing awareness of the negative aspects of industrial farming, ranging from environmental impacts and animal welfare to simply discussions regarding taste and quality and the cultural influences of restaurants like Noma, there has been a growing interest in foraging and wild foods. In practices of “locavorism”, which preaches to (mostly) consume foods from one’s immediate surroundings, wild or underrepresented ingredients often take on greater importance. What role does taste play in this?
Departing from my doctoral research, my paper will focus on Canada. It will begin by looking at fiddleheads and wild leeks (ramps) in Ontario and Quebec. Both are wild ingredients that have gained increasing popularity in the past ten years in restaurants and in home kitchens.
My research will be based on analysing recipes published both online (newspapers, magazines and personal blogs) and in print, instructive articles and books regarding fiddleheads and wild leeks, as well as other foraged ingredients, as well as secondary literature concerning the perceptions of taste and environmental impacts of wild foods.
In short, my proposal is about studying discourses in Canada regarding current food trends of eating “wildly” and how the taste of wild foods is constructed. Because wild ingredients are defined based on them being directly harvested from nature without intermediaries such as farmers (although sometimes farmers are replaced by professional or amateur foragers in commercial contexts), I believe studying them provides an important account of the interconnection between environmental impacts, perceptions of taste and culinary consumption.