Is the food industry’s foraging addiction fueling the destruction of forests and wetlands? That’s what the United Kingdom’s National Trust and Forestry Commission thinks.
With the support of local-centric chefs like Jamie Oliver, mushroom foraging has gone from simple pastime to foodie obsession, with many restaurants incorporating wild fungi into their menus. Despite putting an emphasis on wild and local food, The National Trust says that this trend is becoming detrimental to some of the UK’s most cherished natural spaces.
In a recent article on illegal mushroom hunting in Epping Forest, a vast stretch of ancient woodland just outside of London where mushroom hunting is not allowed, The Guardian cites celebrity chefs as one of the main ecological problems that the area faces. What was once an underground trend has slowly made its way into the mainstream, and in doing so, put the environment at risk.
Fortunately for fungi foodies, it’s not the small scale foraging that’s cause for concern. “If one or two people visit a place and pick a few, that’s probably not much of a problem. But if a couple of people go there repeatedly, visit the same place and collect as many as possible for commercial gain, that could be a problem,” said Matthew Oates of the National Trust.
The culinary community is split on the issue, but ultimately as forager Caroline Davey told the BBC, “it’s about foraging sustainably and sensibly.” That goes for both the commercial industry and individuals.
Even if you’re an individual forager that means knowing about the region your mushroom picking in and how to lower your impact when doing so. If you’re new to foraging, consider taking a class or going with a more experienced mushroom hunter. The last thing we want is a movement that, until now, been responsible for getting more people outside and in tune with what food nature has to offer to turn into an industry that is ultimately detrimental to local habitats.
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground. Each week, Anna will be taking a look at something new and different that’s taking place in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to culinary avant garde.