Forkways #1: Ethnobotany

Ethnobotany is the relationship between plants and people, primarily for food and medicine. This field of study is relatively new to me, but as soon as I stumbled upon it I felt like it could be a field that would hold my interest. Over the past two years I have been expanding into the study of food. I have been reading about it in a historical, social, and historical context. One of the fascinating things about food is the way that it can be invisible in our lives.

The plate of the ethnobotanist should be filled with local foods. I, like Gary Nabhan, live in a desert. I believe, perhaps mistakenly, that locally sourced ingredients would not provide me with the abundance of food I am used to. Though I am well acquainted with the local farms in the area, I am just beginning to understand some of the foraging opportunities in the area.

But my role as an emerging ethnobotanist is to understand more than the delicious and possibly abundant local ingredients available to me. I also need to understand the way that food tastes. All food. Good food. Bad food. Processed. Organic. To understand the tastes and textures I enjoy and I do not. And to understand how and why others might enjoy food I do not.

Every bite is an experience. And with the challenge of finding new and different foods, I must also remind myself of cultural relativism. Usually anthropologists use this concept to explore other cultures, but I also want to use it to explore my own culture and society. I want to abandon my understanding of healthy foods, and good foods, and bad foods. I want to experience all foods, for what they are, what they can be, how they taste, and how they make me feel.

To explore these food experience I, with the help of my friend Robert, came up with a concept of forkways. Forkways is the historical and culture experiences I have when I eat food. We all eat food every day, but many days I go out of my way to try something new. It might be something big, a type of animal protein, an ethnic dish, or something small like a new candy bar or type of soda. But each of these tastes and textures adds to my lexicon of understanding food.


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