Berkeley-Based Wild Food Week Aims to Convince People to Eat Weeds – CityLab

By Aarian Marshall | April 4, 2015

Chez Panisse, the famed, ultra high-end Berkeley restaurant that has built its reputation on clean, local, organic food, could hardly feel further away from West Oakland, where fresh produce can be hard to find and the median household income is just under $36,000 per year. That’s something that the UC Berkeley statistics professor Philip Stark, who heads the Open Source Food project, readily acknowledges.

“There’s not a direct connection,” he says, between encouraging fine dining restaurants like Chez Panisse to prepare and serve weeds—yes, weeds—and convincing the residents of high-poverty neighborhoods like West Oakland to do the same.

Yet both are major goals of the Open Source Food project, which is run by four UC Berkeley professors and promotes food equity and sustainability by encouraging people to forage for, cook and eat the hardy weeds that spring up naturally in urban backyards and between concrete sidewalk slabs.

These include thyme, chickweed, dandelion, sow thistle and the appetizing-sounding nipplewort, which can be cooked like spinach. Other favorite weed treatments include salads, pesto-like sauces, and even seasoning for your favorite red meat. (“Do not consume any part of any plant … unless you are quite sure you know what you are doing,” the project’s website warns.)

Lamb chop accompanied by a weed salad. (Open Source Food)

The project’s first Wild Food Week, a collaboration between Open Source Food and the chefs of some of the Bay Area’s most well-regarded restaurants, kicks off next week. On Wednesday, diners will be able to order a $50 prix fixe meal from the folks behind Mission Chinese Food (“There’s always a line around dinner time,” cautions Yelp) and the Perennial, which hasn’t opened yet but which promises to view all its business  decisions “through the lens of environmental impact.” On Thursday, Chez Panisse will offer a “set menu with wild plants woven into the Chez Panisse experience,” for which reservations alone cost $25, payable by credit card. Friday is Mission Heirloom’s turn, with a $40 dining experience from a restaurant that promises organic and non-GMO foods with “head to tail goodness.” (“This means nothing goes to waste,” the Berkeley restaurant explains).

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