Winifred Bird’s Eating Wild Japan: Tracking the Culture of Foraged Foods, with a Guide to Plants and Recipes (Stone Bridge Press, 2021) is more than just a look at the culture and meanings of foraging in Japan complete with an eclectic collection of recipes and a guide for foragers, though it is certainly that. Eating Wild records the author’s encounters with quirky people―including a caldera dweller, a bear hunter, and a seaweed scientist―in surprising places―from snowy northern mountains to quiet Kyoto streets―and is animated by an obvious and effusive love of food, of travel, of people, and of the environment. Bird begins by observing that for many in contemporary Japan, wild forage is as much about “the pleasure of picking and the incidental beauty” as it is about “anything as practical as nutritional content,” but that this attitude is very much the product of particular historical and economic circumstances. Her sensitivity to this issue is foregrounded in chapters 2 and 3, on horse chestnuts and bracken, respectively. Bird’s background as an environmental journalist is particularly noticeable, for example, in her final chapter on wild seaweeds and the costs and benefits of aquaculture. Though as its full title Eating Wild Japan indicates, Bird’s fieldwork is rooted firmly in Japan, this is a book that will appeal to foodies and travel-starved East Asia neophytes as much as to veterans and scholars of Japan.
Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese and East Asian history in the Graduate School of Humanities, Nagoya University.
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