06 . 08 . 16
The Travelling Forager
Juniper, pine and edible flowers in Sweden. Writing and image by Julia Georgallis.
I’m currently sitting in a field on an island in Sweden (sounds wanky doesn’t it?). Whilst I’ve been here, camping and cooking for 20 designers on holiday, foraging has been on my mind. We’ve been trying to use things that are around us for project ideas, food ideas and fun ideas. So I’ve been thinking about this verb – ‘to forage.’ Meaning ‘to gather, especially food.’ A word that has its roots in one of the oldest of human activities, when we were hunter-gatherers finding food from wherever we could. Unfortunately, nowadays, to me, the word ‘forage’ is just a bit… well it’s also quite wanky really. The extent of my foraging in normal life stretches as far as gathering some blackberries from the bush next to where I park my car which has probably been pissed on by a million foxes. I don’t need to forage. There is an abundance of food where I live in supermarkets and markets and because people I know grow things and give me the occasional courgette or fig or apple. So really, it’s a bit unnecessary. However. There is another definition of foraging. ‘To forage – (of a person or animal) search widely for food or provisions.’ It’s a good definition, possibly one that is far more modern. I can get behind this, as my main premise in life is to travel and cook. I am, as the phrase says, always searching far AND wide for food and provisions. Wherever I go, my memories of places seem to be marked by the food that I ate there.
I’m a pretty lucky eater – I was raised by a foodie family who cooked delicious food. I’ve had the pleasure of eating at some of the most amazing restaurants in the world. But still, some of the best food experiences have been the most basic, and usually whilst travelling. Catching and eating blue crabs in Western Australian with my best friend, sitting on the side of the road with an old housemate and her parents in Sardinia drinking wine from a tiny plastic glass and eating sea urchins, the lady cooking spring onions and potatoes by the side of Lake Atitlan, picking mussels in Cornwall and eating them with a bit of freshly made bread, a pot of molten fondue eaten with crumbly bread and a killer red wine on Lake Geneva or a smoked fish picnic on a rocky beach one cold summer in Sweden – the list goes on and on and on. And it would probably be a really boring list for anyone else other than me, anyway.
So I always wonder why. Why can’t I just say that the fancy restaurants are the best? I’m not trying to be contrary on purpose. But I’ve decided that I think at the heart of it all lies spontaneity that occurred when we used to actually forage – the joy of accidental food. Though our digestive systems are hardwired to like routine, our brains perhaps don’t yet. And so, we go to the supermarket once or twice a week with our regular shopping list and we buy our normal things and we eat three times a day and it’s all very nice. But then you find that the chilli plant you bought from Tesco’s has actually grown some knobbly red demonstration or you find yourself hungry in Patagonia and stumbling across a hole in the wall that serves the biggest King Crabs you’ve ever seen – things like that. It deviates from the path of normal eating and stimulates some other thing in your brain that is probably attached to the pleasure bit on your tongue. So I’m still going to go to fancy restaurants, I think. But. I might just end up enjoying that blackberry crumble laced with fox wee that little bit more.