The invented diet
Re-wilding dinner to transcend the beige
Oyster mushrooms, herbs, artichoke and blueberries
How sexy is the produce section? Without even tasting all those bulbous plants, you’re hit with a sensory overload. There’s the deceptively fabulous passion fruit, the regal eggplants, the lettuce wall—AKA 50 shades of green. Though sanitized and bloodless, the butcher’s counter is a bit less appealing. But for most of us, it awakens our carnivorous appetites like dinner bells during a cowboy nap.
Mother nature sure had an eye for presentation, right? Not so fast—there was no such thing as a red, polished apple and center-cut cured bacon in the Paleolithic era. Despite the pseudo-diversity at your local grocery, only a few real distinctions characterize your colorful dinner.
About 10,000 years ago, Homo sapiens—highly advanced foraging omnivores—traded in a ridiculously diverse range of wild and medicinal foods to focus on harnessing life-sustaining calories. Adopting agriculture and animal husbandry, most humans left the hunting and gathering to hobby.
Certain plants and animals proved more suited for predictable consumption. After centuries of manipulation, our modern food hardly resembles the wild cuisine that nourished our ancestors.
Consider wild Brassica Oleracea, a plant that flourishes in the limestone near the English Channel. Half of your shopping cart—cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, savoy, collard greens, cauliflower and many other edibles—were cultivated from this one bitter little bud.
Then there’s Rosaceae, a flowering plant family whose numerous descendants include the apple, pear, cherry, almond, plum and raspberry. Though some of this diversity occurs in the wild, humans domesticated varieties for flavor, size and so on, including more than 5,000 varieties of apple.
From wild grasses, we developed more gummy, calorie-rich germ. We mutated the tiny, colorful, bitter wild potato into the nightshades, whose gigantic tubers are typically white and worthless on the tongue without a heap of corn-fed butter. Our carrots were once miniature, purple and packed with anthocyanins (a wonderfully robust compound known for its cancer-fighting and anti-aging properties). Modern carrots are monochromatic, excessively sugary and lower in phytochemicals.
Finally, the prized cow, chicken and pig—what the heck are these things? Like the pug and Chihuahua, farm animals are domesticated models of their robust ancestors. The wild boar, AKA Sus Scrofa, first came to the U.S. with European explorers. Husbandry tamed these horned and aggressive quadrupeds into anthropomorphic movie star material (see “Babe” for details).
A similar story precedes the more than 300 breeds of cow in the world today. Ever heard of yattle (cow/Yak) or beefalo (no need to explain there)? They both lineate from the Eastern wild ox, according to new genetic research.
The chicken descended from the wild rooster, which was bred initially for cock-fighting and not chicken nuggets. Though the docile animals now peck around in pastures and backyards, their forefathers were extremely aggressive and full of vitality.
So the majority of your dinner plate is invented—is creativity such a bad thing? Not necessarily. But what if vital foods build vital people? Due to a naturally active lifestyle, wild game is typically lower in fat. And wild plants and animals have intense flavor profiles, mostly due to high levels of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D and K). The bitterness of plants comes from phytochemicals such as nitrogen-based alkaloids, carotenoids and capsaicin. Curcuminoids make the turmeric root taste almost like cologne but indicate its extensive cancer-fighting abilities. These compounds are typically more abundant in the wild ancestors of our supermarket hybrids.
For more robust nutrition, eat local and incorporate more wild plants into your diet. Mulberries, dandelion greens, venison, morel mushrooms and wild plums are just a few powerhouse foods that are easily accessible here in Oklahoma.
Foraging without guidance can be dangerous, so make sure you’re well aware of edible plant traits, as well as the less obvious differences exposing their dangerous impersonators. Acquire tips by scanning and inquiring on the local Facebook community page, Foraging Oklahoma. OklahomaWildcrafting.com also offers an abundance of information—including events and e-books—for safely foraging herbs, mushrooms and other edibles.
If blindly entering our buggy forests for weird food sounds like a stretch, local farmers’ markets and alternative grocery stores have great wild and closer-to-wild options. Health writer Jo Robinson frequently revisits the globe artichoke in her book Eating on the Wild Side. Robinson calls it “one of the most nutritious vegetables in the grocery store,” even when canned.
If artichokes aren’t your thing, Robinson recommends blueberries, black grapes, purple carrots, mangoes, papayas, arugula, blue fingerling potatoes, beets, lentils and chives. Herbs are also highly bioactive and rich in a wonderful array of phytochemicals. Giving your tongue another world of untamed variety, mushrooms like morels, oysters and chanterelles find their way into market on occasion as well.
As for wild game, many hunters end up with more than they can handle. Asking around might get you a plump pheasant or some venison liver (one of the most abundant sources of vitamins A and B12). Bison and lamb also offer a more gamey and wild taste. If it’s beef you’re after, the grass-fed variety has been thoroughly proven to contain more fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. For direction, check out Robinson’s online catalog of Oklahoma’s wilder producers of animal products.
Okie growers bring many of these products to our highly accessible farmers’ markets. Getting these foods locally will always offer more nutrients and a more direct connection with your dinner.
Prepare your next meal using wild bounty. Aside from being more nutritious, the mouth feel and flavor profiles will refine your palate and make it harder to return to the bland and beige hybrids invading our food supply. Don’t forget to enjoy the meditations of cooking—chew slowly, laugh with good company, and don’t fret over a few extra creamy calories.
Smoothie recipe: Summer Dandy
5 leaves wild dandelion greens
8 leaves homegrown mint
12 oz coconut water
1 tsp turmeric powder