Gina Rae La Cerva explores the world of foraging and wild foods in new book, Feasting Wild: In Search of the Last Untamed Food. Photograph by Minesh Bacrania.
GINA RAE LA CERVA SPENT MUCH OF HER CHILDHOOD wandering the hills alone near her Tesuque home. “I had this free-range existence,” says the Santa Fe writer, geographer, and environmental anthropologist. Inspired by those early adventures, she traveled across four continents and spent six years researching and writing Feasting Wild: In Search of the Last Untamed Food (Greystone), which debuted last summer and earned praise as a New York Times recommended summer read for 2020. Part memoir, part foodie tome of the rarest kind, the book explores the world of foraging, wild foods, and our most primal connections to our food sources. As a culinary adventurer, La Cerva mourns that although more than 30,000 plant species have been used as food and medicine worldwide, we now rely primarily on about 30. “Saving wild foods is fundamentally about recovering our common heritage,” she says.
I grew up out in the country, down a winding dirt road with a sharp drop-off. I didn’t have many friends, so I felt the land became my friend.
Some of my favorite landscapes in northern New Mexico are where you’re walking along and it feels as fierce and remote as anywhere. Then there’s an apple tree.
You know that apple tree exists because either some sheepherder threw out an apple or a settlement was there at some point. Yet it feels much wilder, because that ecosystem has changed over time, and all the trees have grown in.
I’m from New Mexico. Part of Feasting Wild is a meditation on finding home.
It is a celebration of our humanity, our wildness, our connection to food and nature—and our collective heartbreak.
Feasting Wild is about bringing back some of those very old stories that feel more Indigenous, feminine, and land-based.
I deal with my environmental grief by growing things. In the spring, I eat a lot of dandelion greens. I just pick them out of my backyard, because they come up everywhere.
We need to stop defining “wild” in a certain way. There are gradations of wildness. Plants and animals have their own motivations, their own desires. To me, that makes them wild.
If we start expanding our understanding of sentience and consciousness, we see how vibrant and alive the world is.
Bird-watching fulfills this need to socialize with the non-human world, which is really quite beautiful, and expands our idea of what it means to be in a community.
I think of seeds as cultural knowledge and as technology. They are embodied life in this form that has not bloomed, has not grown yet.
I tell people interested in learning to forage to go walk a place for an entire year before you start picking things. Identifying them is great, but having that relationship with a place is almost more important.
We’re not going to solve the climate crisis by having a handful of us eat locally grown food. We have to figure out how to create different systems within our food culture.
New Mexico is such a beautiful place for this. We have lots of experience with navigating both the discomfort and the beauty of multiculturalism.
Women feed the world. Women still contribute the majority of food calories in the world that are either hunted, fished, cultivated, or foraged. It’s quite profound.
My life project has been to notice the wondrous in the smallest details and mundane moments. This is one way I find joy in difficult times.
The world is noisier than ever before. Nature is adapting to this soundscape. Crickets sing louder in order to be heard over the din of traffic. Whale song has become less complex. As we lose the quiet songs, we also lose the subtle notes. It’s imperative that we relearn how to listen, to appreciate the quiet and the darkness once more.
Read More: Chef Johnny Ortiz gathers and raises the ingredients for his 12-person, reservation-only meals, served on dishes he also makes by hand. An evening at Shed roots every guest in his native soil.