Foraging for food popular in Sydney

His golden rule is “if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it.”

Diego Bonetto leads a foraging expedition in Belangalo State Forest.

Diego Bonetto leads a foraging expedition in Belangalo State Forest.Credit:Steven Siewert

“Foraging isn’t experimenting,” he said. “Foraging is not Bear Grylls in the desert trying to guess whether he can eat this or he’s going to die.

“Foraging is cultivating relationships with your own neighbourhood. If you’re filling up your breakfast bowl with anything, make sure you know what it is.”

There is no rule of thumb for what you can or can’t eat in terms of appearance or colour. While you can learn about plants through TAFE courses and university, Mr Bonetto said that most knowledge about edibility and foraging of plants is inherited.

“If you study botany, or horticulture, you’ll learn about how to define plants but not necessarily what is safe to eat and what isn’t,” he said.

He encourages people to read about the Australian environment, go to workshops and botanic gardens, or learn about bush tucker from Indigenous teachers.

“There’s no replacing the lived experience of engaging with resources. Once you do it, you absorb it in a way that cannot be transferred through a YouTube clip.”

"We do so many things with mushrooms": Cornersmith cafe has a variety of mushroom-related products which come from foraging.

“We do so many things with mushrooms”: Cornersmith cafe has a variety of mushroom-related products which come from foraging. Credit:Steven Siewert

Mr Bonetto said that when you’re not foraging on your own soil, you should only take ten per cent of the available resources, and you should spend plenty of time getting acclimatised before you take anything at all. “Before you touch anything in a particular environment, you should walk that environment for one year.”

Mr Bonetto works with Cornersmith, a cafe and picklery in the inner-west that focuses on ethical food production, sustainable business practice and community engagement. Organised foraging workshops have been popular with the cafe’s customers, owner Alex Elliott-Howery said.

“People are really looking for ways to connect with the food that they’re eating, [and] also with the traditions and histories of food,” she said.

“It’s just a really beautiful way to learn. Not just to be able to go and pick things, but to actually incorporate them in your kitchen and diet as well.”

Ms Elliott-Howery’s staff and chefs go on foraging trips and have been working with Mr Bonetto for seven years. She said that foraged mushrooms can create a variety of products.

“Pickle them, dehydrate them and use them as a seasoning, they make a mushroom salt. You can make a mushroom paste that can go through sauces or pasta or on toast. It’s very earthy flavoured.

Ms Elliott-Howery said that people are pivoting away from the ‘big shop’ at the supermarket. “Once you grow your own food or forage from your own food … I feel like that makes you value food, and will ultimately stop people wasting food.”

Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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