I’m in the midst of reading for my Fall Composition class, and when I heard about Ava Chin’s Eating Wildly, I was intrigued by the concept of foraging. Would it be a survival skills book? A how-to in wild plants, herbs, fruits, and lore? Or would it be more dystopian in nature—a sort of book that explains how someone like Katniss Everdeen could eke out a living in a ruined landscape?
As it turns out, no. Chin’s book is a memoir in food. Eating Wildly documents an urban woman’s connection with nature and family through her foraging habits and commune with nature. Chin is the child of a single mother and no real connection to her birth father. Her grandparents have been influential in raising her, and it is through them that she learns about the wild plants, greens, and fruits that grow in Queens, where she was raised. The book goes back and forth in time, documenting her childhood, uncertain adulthood, and movement to the present moment, in which she learns to reconcile her past, her longings, and her aspirations in order to be a fulfilled individual. There are recipes and medicinal treatments for foragers, including a wild greens pie and pain relievers.
Eating Wildly was not at all what I expected, but that did not make the book any less enjoyable. Chin is an engaging storyteller, and her unique angle as a forager made her memoir unexpected and less full of the tropes that sometimes populate nonfiction genres. I do have one serious complaint, however: SO MANY MUSHROOMS. I am not a mushroom person at all. As in, I believe the world is divided into two types: those who love mushrooms and those who hate mushrooms. I had the good fortune of marrying a man who also hated mushrooms. And so we live in harmony. But still: reading about mushrooms was a bit icky for me. That doesn’t lessen my overall enjoyment, however.