Forager Andy Hamilton thinks going native is actually the key to more variety. “When we shop, we go down the same aisles, we pick up the same foods. We may try to think seasonally and vary our foods, or even our drinks – but we kind of don’t!”
The statistics bear Andy out. There are around 350,000 species of plants on the planet of which about 50,000 are edible to humans. Of those, around 3,000 were regularly exploited by traditional hunter-gatherer societies. Our modern agricultural world has reduced this number dramatically. Data from 146 countries suggests that 103 species now contribute 90% of the world’s plant food supply with just 30 providing 95% of our calories and protein.
As Andy says: “There’s a disconnect between what human beings are programmed to do and how we’re living now. We’ve got hundreds of bitter taste receptors on our tongues for example, why aren’t we using them to appreciate our local bitters? Why do we only make tonic waters using quinine from Peru when we could be using bitter leaves from local dandelions or Lady’s smock?”
“That’s what I mean!” interrupts Ally, “There’s plenty of bitterness around here if you wanted to use it. If you’re in Peru, that’s great, have a drink made from Peruvian plants. But if you’re not, if you are here in the UK, or in Japan or Germany or the USA – wherever you are in the world, reach out to experience the flavours that surround you.”