A while back, I took a trip to Asheville, North Carolina and documented the experience in our recent Travel Issue. One of the coolest things I did during my time in the Blue Ridge Mountains was go on a foraging tour with a local company there called No Taste Like Home. The experience was informative, eye-opening and delicious. The food we picked during our tour was cooked on the spot and again later that day at a restaurant called Nightbell — one of the best meals of my life. After the trip, I got the chance to ask No Taste Like Home founder and wild food educator Alan Muskat a few questions about his unique business and the lost art of foraging food.
Briefly tell us what exactly you and No Taste Like Home currently does.
I am the founding director of No Taste Like Home, a wild food education organization and foraging tour company. We take people out to eat — outside, that is. Participants can learn to cook their very own “catch of the day” or they can have one of seven local restaurants prepare it for them.
How did you initially get into foraging? Was there someone you drew inspiration from?
I grew up in Miami. When I was a child, my family went to garage sales, we went to the beach and collected seashells, and we occasionally got mangoes or avocados from neglected trees. I also had a fascination with treasure hunting and saving the world. I didn’t really start foraging consciously until after college, when I hiked and cooked for the first time. I also discovered Taoism, which is all about getting back to nature, including our true human nature. This is the real treasure that I now realize I’ve always been seeking, and the appreciation for “free stuff,” which many would call scavenging, is ideally an experience of The Garden of Eden, which I don’t think is a myth: it’s all around us.
What’s the real reasoning behind it? Why do it?
There are at least seven reasons to forage. Wild food is free, delightful (novel, diverse), healthy and sustainable. Foraging is empowering, reconnecting and fun (although the seventh reason is usually some combination of the previous six). For more info, see here.
In your opinion, what are a few of the most important things to keep in mind when foraging?
The most important thing, safety-wise, is that like any skill, foraging takes practice. And until the edibles are as familiar as family, everyone needs guidance. A real field guide has two legs.
What sorts of things can people in the Northeast Florida area find that are usable? Any major things to avoid?
North Florida has countless edibles. Just a few are dandelion, Spanish needles, red sumac, hickory nuts, acorns, blackberry, beauty berry, elderberry, strawberry, wild grape, passionfruit, persimmon, greenbriar, cabbage palm, basswood, sourwood, Brazilian pepper, sassafras, wild garlic, wild rose, prickly pear, pine, dollar weed, wood sorrel and lambs quarter.
The toxic and even deadly plants in Florida are too numerous to mention; see next question.
You mentioned that the skills and knowledge needed to do this are take a long time to acquire, so how can a newbie get started?
If “doing it” means foraging and eating what you find, anyone can start doing that tomorrow. Just don’t do it alone. When foraging, there’s only one thing to remember. It can be summed up in one word. That word has just three letters. Ask. Ask for help. Find a mentor. Join a club. DIY is DUM. We learn from each other; that is the traditional way, the only smart way.
Do you think this movement is growing? Why?
The movement back to nature, in all senses of the word, is as inevitable as what happens when you throw a ball up in the air. What goes up must come down. We have been defying gravity since agriculture — and civilization with it — began. Until we work with nature instead of against it, nothing will be sustainable. Even local, organic, small-scale farming is unsustainable simply because we’re not growing what is natural.
Stop tending your garden. What survives is what you should be eating.
What’s the long-term goal for No Taste Like Home?
Our goal is for every child in the U.S., by 2030, to know the 10 most common wild foods in their area. We’d like to see foraging taught in schools as a basic skill. When people are once again fed by nature, not our artificial replacements, we can stop foraging. The word forage means “to pillage.” Foraging and agriculture are both unsustainable because both are pillaging. You can take without giving back for only so long. The solution, which worked for thousands of years before agriculture, is permaculture. It means “tending the wild” — being a part of nature, not trying to replace it. Eating wild food is just the first step.
Interested in finding out more information on foraging and No Taste Like Home? Check out their website at NoTasteLikeHome.org and peruse the multitude of articles on all sorts of foraging-related topics. Knowledge is power!
All photos shot on 35mm film by Zach Sweat