In Copenhagen, Denmark for a week with my son, I stumbled upon Vild Mad, a wild foods festival in the beautiful Amager Faelled, a large nature preserve on the outskirts of the city. It was a large circuit of tables set up along “paths” which wound through the park, and at each table a fancy Danish chef would cheerfully hand us something wild to eat. For free.
We also made stops throughout the route to watch snails and to forage for blackberries, golden plums, apples, elder berries and wild greens. (Snails are really fascinating btw.)
We tried a hot Wild Cherry drink (red!), roasted wild honeycomb (otherworldly!), something in a Birch bowl which was called ‘horseradish and bugs” and was covered in edible wildflowers (delicious!), Japanese Knotweed crisp on buttermilk foam (not weed!), fresh-pressed wild apple cider and hard cider (want more!), Rosa rugosa ice cream (my favorite flower!), a thin slice of daikon radish with elder berry sauce and Juniper berry powder(indescribable!), mussels cooked in cans (mussels are life!), wild honey wine (sexy!), wild local seaweed salad ( oceany!) and more delightful treats.
We also had a wild Wood Sorrel gelato from the Gelato Bike and I drank wild gin drinks from the little bar, garnished with Hawthorne berries and Sweet Cicely.
As we sat down to enjoy these treats, a band made up of an accordion, a stand-up bass and a hammer dulcimer played mood music referred to as “jazzy wilderness tunes” and donkeys delivered local wine to bystanders.
There was a strong emphasis on wild foods as the cultural birthright of the people, on children participating in foraging and in a hands-on, freely given exchange of knowledge.
What was most striking to me was that it wasn’t striking. There was no wankfest of self-congratulation for eating something local or harvesting a wild apple. It was just a very normal bunch of people doing a perfectly normal thing-eating seaweed and bugs outside on a Sunday afternoon.
As a person currently living in America who finds deep satisfaction in foraging, (it’s been my job and is still a primary identity for me), and who is on a lifelong search for home and belonging, this experience hit me deep in the heart, deep in the place which is always yearning for an answer around who I am, where I come from and what humanity’s many movements mean for belonging.
Belonging: to be is longing, for me a complex series of losses and discoveries driven by my genes and my senses. How exciting it is to get lost in an experience which speaks to me of place and time–which supports me as a person with a history, a a forager and as a traveler.
It’s a relief from the restlessness of my moving genetic pollination to get rooted in the taste of a weed, familiar but different, something I think I know and love like Juniper or Rose re-interpreted for me here, in 2017, standing in a wild woods, on an island in the Baltic, exchanging knowing looks with strangers experiencing together the tastes and smells, held by the shared love of the moment, of the sensual pleasure.
The complexity of this longing is something that has driven me for years to ask questions and annoy people, though I’ve finally started to appreciate my borderless bones and boundary-crossing sense of self. And what this experience shared with me is the importance of inquiry and exchange in defining a homeland, and what we must give to claim a place or a taste as our own, and how that looks different for a person with a clear lineage and home compared to a person born from travel and movement.
The loss of being from a place can give the gift of being from many places, of cultivating and defining our sense of self through the senses, and wild food is one way to create this. Sitting under a tent with my wild drink, laughing kids and jazzy wilderness tunes I consciously made meaning from history and piles of rubble, from plants, fermentation and accordion music which just can’t be found sitting at home.
And ultimately, it gives more meaning to my own long inquiry, my deep love of plants and fungi, my desire to create place-based elixirs, to make art and document my own movements and lineages, the fulfillment I feel in the hunt and the foodways, and in passing this passion on to my own children. I encourage all to explore the wild side of life, what’s left for us to connect with, in order to protect it and preserve it as well as to move forward, culturally, valuing wilderness and sensual pleasures.
In that spirit, here is the amazing Vild Mad website full of photos and recipes to inspire us all: https://vildmad.dk/en. And if you are curious about the space which inspired this, it’s http://www.kobenhavnergron.dk/place/naturpark-amager/?lang=en.
“Translation is not neutral.”-Eleanor McDowall