across art, technology & society

Urban harvesting

Last year October 2009 I had my first experience of foraging in the city. Together with Cocky Eek we went to the Erasmuspark and collected (in 45 minutes) 3 kilos of white wild carrots. This whole initiative has been started by Urban Edibles and Urbanibalism. After harvesting various crops they organized a big urban dinner at the W.G. Kunst, a former sanatorium as part of the Wilhelmina Gasthuis hospital complex, in Amsterdam.

After this dinner Theun and Cocky decided to carry this initiative to a next level. They approached me for advise on mobile technology. The idea is to develop a mobile application from which people can learn about their edible surroundings (in the city). We have collaboratively applied for funding for our project: Augmented Foraging – BoskoiPrins Bernhard Cultuurfonds is very enthusiastic about our project: education on nature in urban settings. 

The Dinner
The meal was completely prepared with vegetables, plants and flowers harvested from in and around Amsterdam with various medicinal properties. Each course could be seen as an edible vaccine, making you resistant against for urban ailments, real or hypochondriac.

A few of the very exquisite items on the menu were the antiflogistic aperitif, against infections in the mouth, gingko seeds as an anti-hangover capsule, but also good for your digestion. 

People with various expertise were invited, which led to interesting discussions and knowledge exchange. It made you think about other aspects of food. We usually don’t think of the [medicinal] value of food, but neither do we think where it is produced, how it is processed or where it is actually coming from. We also discussed the idea of plants having feelings, but also the more political aspect of food. Like the US based multinational Monsanto is actually patenting it’s genetically modified seeds. For example by developing seed technology they produce plants that have sterile seeds, so they would never flower or grow fruit after the initial planting, making many farmers dependent on repurchasing seed for every planting. Imagine if this seed spread to native vegetation, making it impossible for any plant to reproduce fruit.

It also makes you think about our fast life in the city. It took us 45 minutes to harvest the carrot. It took Cocky 2.5 hours to wash the carrots and I think about an hour to scrape and cut the carrots with 5 people. However all the time and effort is completely worth it, the tastes are strong and natural. Especially the taste of bitter, if you think about it, we don’t know how bitter tastes anymore. Through this dinner we learn how the city can supply us with plenty and it gives us a look in the historical roots of recipes.

The whole menu was prepared by Wietske Maas and Mateo Pasquinelli from Urbanibalism in collaboration with Cocky Eekand Theun Karelse from Urban Edibles.