A Review: Eating Wildly


Outside my grandparents’ home was a walnut tree. It stood uncomfortably close to their front picture window, creating an off-putting darkness that I tried to escape. When I walked from the sidewalk to the front door, I gingerly stepped around its detritus: thickly hulled green orbs that dropped from its branches and rolled around. They would get crushed, blacken, and, eventually, open to reveal a magical wrinkly nut. My memory holds the walnuts there, even though I’m sure the tree did not produce nuts every year of my childhood. There are other plants I remember too: olallieberries grew in the backyard, thickly covering a red fence. The word seemed plucked from a Dr. Seuss book. I thought they had made it up because, well, the berries looked exactly like blackberries. Over that red fence I could see a slide that went into what must have been a pool. This was the San Fernando Valley. This was my early life. Despite the messy debris, it felt urban, clean.

Those plants I remember were separate from what I considered food and had nothing to do with what we, as a family, ate. Eventually I came to backyard gardening, learning the finer points of how to successfully keep plants alive. But even then, my city ears found something oddly repellent when I would hear the word “forage.” It didn’t sound like something a person should be doing with their free time. It sounded like an activity for non-domesticated animals: I picture a seagull hovering over a parking lot — maybe a McDonald’s — looking for a child’s dropped French fry.

Originally published on the Los Angeles Review of Books. Read the essay here.