The Performant: All you can eat


Wild Food Walks and Bal Littéraire satisfy imaginative appetites.

“First, the bad news,” says our guide and frequent forager Kevin Feinstein. “Foraging in the Bay Area is illegal.”

Well, swell, I guess it’s a good thing that I packed snacks. “If the land is private, and you have permission from the owners, you can forage,” Feinstein amends, which still doesn’t help me in planning my lunch, but good to know for future reference. I’m attending one of ForageSF’s “Wild Food Walks,” along with about 15 others, hoping to graze upon that freest of foodstuffs, the weeds in our backyards -- and yours.

The tour kicks off on the perimeter of Golden Gate Park, and without even taking a step, we’re summarily introduced to common mallow, miner’s lettuce, and stinging nettles. After another reminder about the illegality of *picking* the plants in the park, Feinstein exhaustively details each plant’s properties — their nutritional content, the edible parts of each, identification and preparation tips. Mallow is mucilaginous and anti-inflammatory, and the seed pods or “cheese wheels” can be eaten as well as the leaves, stalks, and everything else. Miner’s lettuce, which looks a bit like a land-locked lily-pad, is native to California, high in Omega-3s, and never gets bitter, even when older. Nettles do sting (which one curious child found out the hard way), but not when crushed or cooked. Extremely high in various minerals and vitamins, nettles are also easily cultivated, making them a good bet for amateur urban farmers as well as foragers.

“One five-gallon nursery pot grows more nettle than one person can handle,” promises Feinstein as visions of pestos and cream soups begin to creep into our collective consciousness.

Two hours and a dozen plants later, we’re all a little overwhelmed, but there’s excitement in it, like people are going to go home immediately and weed the garden, not for the usual reasons, but to make a salad. It almost makes one want to trade one's wallet for a foraging basket, until reminded that urban foraging has its share of downsides -- legal issues, contaminated soil, plant misidentification. Even so, I’m betting that hardly anyone in that group will be able to pass by a big clump of hilltop-dwelling nasturtiums or wild radish without checking for their crunchy, spicy seed pods, or slipping a few leaves in their bag for later.

Another new taste I was introduced to over the weekend was San Francisco’s first ever “Bal Littéraire,” a Parisian concept imported over as part of the French-American translation exchange, the Des Voix Festival. Though I’d been given an idea of the concept ahead of time -- an ephemeral, collaborative work created by six playwrights, using pop songs to tie the scenes together and turning the floor into a giant dance party -- nothing could have prepared me for the high-spirited spectacle it became.

Seeing a “typical” Bay Area theatre crowd getting down and dirty to hyphy hit “Fast (Like a Nascar)” in the middle of a French-accented, surrealistic serial romantic comedy featuring Liz Duffy Adams as a tough-talking, Jackie-of-all-trades stalking a middle-aged French divorcee, and Marcus Gardley as an octogenarian in drag, was a taste of contemporary France mixed with a Bay Area spice that titillated a cosmic palate, and won’t soon be forgotten. Here’s hoping that either Playwrights Foundation or the Consulate General of France find a way to keep this new theatrical tradition going in SF for years to come.