People are seeking out professional foragers amid fears that grocery stores will run out food
- People are turning to wild plant foragers to teach them how to live off the land as the coronavirus health crisis continues.
- Expert foragers across the US are reporting a huge uptick in interest in their classes.
- As the pandemic threatens global supply chains, people are preparing themselves for alternative ways to get food, one forager said.
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Grilled pigeon is on the menu for Candace Thompson.
As a wild food educator, Thompson cooks with ingredients found around New York City - and serves them at public banquets.
Her hauls include crabs she found in the East River and weeds she collected in Donald J. Trump State Park.
Thompson has been foraging since childhood. But as food insecurity grows during the coronavirus health crisis, more and more people are trying to learn survival skills like hers.
"Maybe being able to call upon the weeds that grow in your yard or your local park could become of service to you," she told Business Insider Today.
Expert foragers are reporting a huge uptick in online interest. One of the people reaping the benefits is Mark "Merriwether" Vorderbruggen, who runs the website Foraging Texas from his suburban home outside Houston.
"Normally I'd be getting 400 new followers a month, maybe 100 a week, and it tripled," he told Business Insider Today.
- Vorderbruggen engages with his audience in daily livestreams. He says many of his followers were drawn to his site over fears that the American supply chain would break down, forcing them to fend for food on their own.
"There's all these articles of farmers not being able to get their crops through the infrastructure that finally gets it out to the grocery stores," Vorderbruggen said.
"So people are staying in this and they're going, 'Damn, there might not be food. What do I do? Well there's green stuff all around me. Some of it's got to be edible, you know? What did people do beforehand?'"
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Pascal Baudar has been teaching workshops about wild edible plants for nearly two decades.
Since California began implementing lockdowns, Baudar estimates that 60% of what he eats comes directly from nature, compared to 20% from before.
"We have a pandemic and people don't know what to do," he said. "And I really don't have any problem because I can find my food everywhere."
- Although he canceled in-person classes because of the pandemic, he says his online interactions are skyrocketing.
"What I'm getting right now is a gazillion emails with photos right now saying, 'What is it? Can I eat it?' I get so many of those," he said."
Baudar emphasises in his classes that foraged food doesn't have to lack flavour. He uses wild ingredients to brew his own beer and ferment kimchi, and he's supplied several gourmet restaurants with produce.
"Here's the irony - I'm getting the most unwanted plants to a three-Michelin-star chef that was using it in the dishes that rich people would pay a s---load of money to eat," he said.
The trend could be spreading as restaurants fight to stay open through statewide lockdowns. One Brooklyn restaurant, Honey Badger, even started selling boxes of wild foraged food to customers, who line up around the block for packages of herbs and leafy greens.
- But foraging comes with risks. Some wild plants are poisonous, while others can be contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides.
And in some places, gathering wild food may be illegal. That's what the ecologist "Wildman" Steve Brill learned in 1986, when he was arrested by undercover New York City park rangers for eating a dandelion in Central Park on one of his foraging tours.
But as more people are getting a taste of the wild, experts warn that learning how to survive on foraged food alone takes time.
"I still get emails from people that say, 'I am done with society, done with humanity. I'm going to run off into the woods. What plants can I eat?'" Vorderbruggen said.
"This is something you need to spend a few years learning before you run off into the woods."
- But for those who are dedicated to the lifestyle, foraging has plenty of benefits.
"Foraging is basically like yoga outside because you're bending, you're twisting, you're reaching, you're stretching occasionally you're running really fast," Vorderbruggen said. "What's the saying, let food be thy medicine? I could take it one step farther - let gathering food be thy medicine."
Baudar is hoping that the health crisis inspires more people to take their first steps into the woods.
"For me, it's extremely spiritual. It's like meditation, you know. I'm all by myself. It's just me and nature," he said.
"Why do we need to do pandemic to have that authentic, to have the real sound of a forest?"