A-In Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal, Ava Chin does a fine job of tackling the subject of food, healthy eating and well-being by dividing the book up into the four seasons- fall, spring, summer and winter. Chin’s thematic arrangement is particularly effective because it highlights the symbiotic relationship between food and time and provides the reader with helpful advice on how to reap the full benefits of each season by introducing diverse wild foods into one’s diet. In this respect, Henry Thoreau’s quotes come to mind: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” The reader is given a full description of the uses, benefits and flavors of both edible and medicinal plants. The book weaves in personal narrative, food recipes and philosophical/poetic opinions on the beauty of foraging in a modern context. Chin’s goal in writing this book is simple but ambitious: to teach the masses that foraging for food is as much a spiritual experience as a re-awakening of the five senses.

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Chin subtly postulates that foraging is very much like shopping for food, except that the expedition is that much more intense, invigorating and inspiring because the forager comes into regular contact with nature, escapes the stresses of modern-day life and enhances his or her daily diet with fresh plants. Throughout her book, Chin seeks to showcase the pleasures of foraging, an unusual if not downright foreign activity to most if not all of her readers. “Foraging for food is a little like a mythic quest. You may think you know what you want, and expend a lot of energy and dogged determination making lists and plans for obtaining it… only to find it shimmering elsewhere, like a golden chalice, just out of reach” (Chin 3).

B-Foraging has always fascinated Chin, even as a child. In Chapter II, she recalls digging up earth as a young girl because she loved to investigate its contents. Her relationship with food began with her grandfather, an excellent cook who taught her to appreciate food without discrimination. “Members of my family claim that I ate anything my grandfather fed me, including fish eyeballs, which I later vehemently denied, although I do have a vague memory of eating something round and gelatinous, like vanilla pudding” (Chin 7). That being said, Chin’s childhood was not necessarily a happy one. Abandoned by her father and raised by a sad and bitter single mother, Chin learnt the difficulties related to love early on and tried, many times unsuccessfully, to forgive her father for his absence. As Chin matured into a young woman, she encountered numerous difficulties in finding romantic love and in establishing her own family.

When Chin’s grandmother’s health began to deteriorate, Chin was forced to come to terms with the prospect of loneliness and, along with her mother, “acted as if… there was never enough time or love or money to go around to sustain us” (Chin 58). Chin remembers watching her mother burn the last photograph of her father, an experience that forever shaped Chin’s consciousness as a daughter and as a woman. “Before I could protest, the photograph caught fire… Mom’s eyes were glowing, reflecting the reddish-orange light, and her mouth was back to its satisfied pout, though tension still lingered around the edges” (Chin 20). The mixture of sadness and guilt, which curls up at the pit of Chin’s stomach like one of grandfather’s glasses of scotch, make it difficult, dare I say impossible, for Chin to get over her past, to make friends, and to date New York boys who understand her plight as an Asian American girl who just cannot seem to fit into the Caucasian model.

C-Food features prominently in Chin’s book for diverse reasons. Food is sustenance, but it is also inextricably linked to one’s past, to cherished memories that shape one into an adult. In this respect, Chin approaches food by linking it constantly to her childhood. She recalls catching a fish and watching her grandfather as he proudly fried it and placed it on the table. In this respect, foraging or fishing is a means to an end, but is also so much more than that: it is a way to connect with loved ones, to be proud of being able to nourish one’s family, and to bring the family together. While foraging as a child in front of her mother’s apartment complex, Chin recalls that she “… was hit by flying soil and the pungent smell of scallions, reminiscent of the kind my grandfather used in my favourite lobster Cantonese dish, which he made every Chinese New Year and on my birthday” (Chin 8). As such, food is also connected to a happy memory for Chin. “My grandparents’ home, when my mother dropped me off on Friday afternoons before her dates, was always filled with the sounds and smells of good food” (Chin 7).

D-Food has always been a source of fascination for me. I am lucky to have been raised by loving parents who were interested by a variety of foods. Growing up, I remember waking up to the delicious smells of chocolate pancakes. I would watch as the butter hit the saucepan and would lick every spoon of batter my father handed me. I made a number of friends in high school who introduced me to a variety of cuisines. I remember biting into my first Vietnamese pork chop and fiddling with chopsticks while my friends laughed. I recall twirling fettuccini on my fork and trying to appreciate the taste of sundried olives on my tongue. I am always reminded of the time I refused to eat shark at a restaurant because I called the habit of eating meat “barbaric,” yet tasting it and finally admitting that it tasted excellent with sautéed garlic. My friends would often invite me to sleep-overs where we would binge on fried doughnuts, Canadian maple sugar, ice cream and fudge. We would often wake up to a mess, the food having dribbled and spilt over the furniture, and we would smile self-indulgently as we cleaned the place up.

G-Spring is a season of renewal, of life, and of new possibilities. Chin reminds us that spring is the unique opportunity of communing with the earth and of resourcing oneself both physically and spiritually. In Chapters 13 to 16, Chin features recipes using ingredients such as wild morels to make her classic linguine dish. As a self-professed “locavore”, Chin espouses the idea that the food on your plate should come from nearby, not remote, locations. Calling morels an “elusive” mushroom, Chin posits that ramps are also choice ingredients that are being discovered by high-end restaurant that care about responsible harvesting. Spring, Chin tells us, is a time to discover the full bounty that nature reserves for us and to taste the sweetness of spring. In this respect, she offers her readers a tantalizing recipe for edibles including wild honey and parmesan cracker drizzles, a meal that is laden with emotional content because it teaches her that she can find happiness, comfort and pride through foraging and connecting with the earth. Even if her personal relationships with people like her mother and men ultimately fail, Chen derives strength from foraging, especially in spring, her favourite season (after fall).

Why does Chin find joy in spring? The question is deceptively simple. Springtime is a special season because it heals Chin’s emotional and psychological wounds. “In the seasons that I’ve spent searching for wild edibles, taking long walks as solace after a break-up, or searching for fruit-bearing trees after the death of a loved one, I’ve learnt that nature has a way of revealing things in its own time, providing discoveries along the way-from morel mushrooms bursting through the soil to a swarm of on-the-move bees scouting out a new home” (Chin 6). By coming across a field of freshly sprung asparagus or of a bunch of violets, Chin is always fascinated by the worth she discovers in herself. It is a constant reminder of her value as a human being, a woman and a forager. As the unlikely urban forager of New York, Chin amazes her readers time and time again with her unassuming behaviour, her kindness, her interest in food and healing, and her love of nature’s bounty.

    References
  • Chin, Ava. Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal. New York: Simon & Schuster.