Hosted by Daniel Vitalis, The WildFed Podcast is about deepening your connection with the natural world through hunting, fishing, foraging, and, of course, food. It’s about the wild food that’s freely available on your landscape, at the edges of your town or city, and sometimes just outside your door. The podcast consists of interviews with biologists, authors, wildlife managers, foragers, hunters, anglers, chefs, friends, and plenty of educational and inspirational solo shows too. WildFed — Food Is All Around You.
Just One Leaf? With Clay Bowers — WildFed Podcast #134
Our guest today is Clay Bowers of NoMiForager.com — Clay is a wild food enthusiast and educator in Northern Michigan, who teaches foraging classes and workshops, and writes about foraging on his blog and social media. He’s come on the show today to discuss the increasingly contentious issue of ramp foraging, or wild leeks as we like to say in our neck of the woods. This plant is probably one of the best-known wild edibles in the US, for both foragers but also culinary professionals, who pay top dollar to get them on their menus each spring.
In the commercial market, a ramp — a member of the alliums, or onion family — is a pungent bulb with two or three green leaf blades attached that when cooked are surprisingly sweet. They're wonderful sautéed, roasted, or grilled, and make incredible pesto-like oil preserves.
But their popularity has come at a cost, with the ever-present concern of over-harvest looming over this delicious spring ephemeral. As a result, a new ramp foraging ethic has emerged, which suggests harvesters take only “one leaf per plant” and leave the bulbs in the ground. This leaves another leaf or two for the plant to continue to photosynthesize, and the bulb to continue living in the ground.
But Clay — along with some other prominent foragers in the densest part of leek country — has been challenging this “only one leaf per plant” conservation ethic, suggesting that it's unnecessarily restrictive and might even be stymying the productiveness of ramp colonies.
Now, we want to say upfront, living in a place where ramps are scarce and colonies are small, we subscribe to — and even promote — the “one-leaf” idea. We take one leaf per plant because the stands of wild leeks we harvest from could easily and quickly be denuded by overzealous harvesters. And when they're found by commercial harvesters they are often over-exploited.
But not everyone lives at the extreme ends of this plant's range, and so for those in areas of greatest ramp density, this “rule” is not only unnecessary, it can seem like a pretentious encumbrance dreamt up by hall-monitoring ecological do-gooders.
Of course, like most conservation issues, there are a lot of nuances here to be unraveled.
So, as a “one leaf guy” Daniel thought it would be fun to talk to Clay, who’s more of a “bulb and all” kind of guy.
Not to determine who is right and who is wrong, because it's not that simple, but more to get a sense of when a one-leaf approach might be warranted, and also when taking the bulb-and-all might be more beneficial to a stand of plants.
Perhaps too, it’s worth mentioning that we are still foraging in a very unregulated environment. Hunting, by contrast, has become — and born out of necessity — a very controlled harvest, with each legally hunted species getting its own harvest regulations based on its unique life-cycle and population dynamics.
And while we suspect, we’ll see foraging regulated more broadly in our own lifetimes, at present we, as harvesters, are currently responsible for regulating our own harvests. It’s a big responsibility, and because personality types differ wildly, it’s unlikely that we will all reach a consensus about best practices.
So, for that reason, hearing all the sides of an argument in a dialectic manner, in other words, searching for what’s most true, vs what we want to be true, is a wise approach. While we won’t all arrive at the same conclusions, hopefully, our individual assessments will contribute not just to conservation, but to increasing our botanical resources.
One day we’ll tell the kids how we used to forage without a license and they’ll have a hard time imagining it, just like when we read about the unregulated days of the market hunts. For now, though, let’s all make wise decisions. The future of our unique — and ancient — passion depends on it.
View full show notes, including links to resources from this episode here: https
No Turning Back with Avani Vitalis — WildFed Podcast #133
Today’s episode is a very special one for Daniel. Not just because our guest is his brilliant and beautiful wife Avani Vitalis, but also because they're talking about her very first hunt.
Until this spring turkey season, Avani never really imagined herself hunting. She’s been incredibly supportive of Daniel as a hunter, not just cheering him on, but helping with both practical and logistical aspects. Whether it’s been paddling the canoe on his squirrel hunts or cleaning the grinder and cutting boards after he butchers game, it's always been a team effort. But when it’s come to pressing the trigger, it’s always been him. But that changed this season when she, rather spontaneously, decided she wanted to hunt a turkey herself.
Of course, they had an amazing time, hunting three days in a row, finally harvesting a turkey, breaking down her bird, and, all the while, filming it all for Season 3 of the WildFed TV show on Outdoor Channel.
So, back for her second WildFed Podcast appearance, Avani and Daniel are discussing what it was like to make the transition from non-hunter to hunter. How it felt to be filmed on her first hunt. And what led to her decision. Also, a big focus of this episode is about training and preparation, and in particular, getting comfortable with weapons handling — both manipulation and marksmanship, since these can be significant obstacles to new hunters.
This is a really great episode. And a perfect listen for anyone on the fence about hunting for the first time. So, if you know someone who might benefit, please share it with them.
We hope it inspires you. And as Avani says in the episode, not just inspires you to hunt, but to always be challenging yourself by trying new things. It’s one of the secrets to staying cognitively young, mentally fit, and vital.
View full show notes, including links to resources from this episode here: https://www.wild-fed.com/podcast/133
Feeding Cahokia, Diet of the Mound Builders with Gayle Fritz PhD — WildFed Podcast #132
If you’ve been listening in lately, you’ve no doubt heard Daniel and a few of our guests mention Cahokia, an ancient North American city near present-day St Louis, that, at its peak habitation, may have been home to some 14-18K thousand people.
The largest, and believed to be the most influential city of the Mississippian culture, it was first inhabited around 1050 and eventually disbanded by 1350 CE, something like 142 years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the so-called “New World."
While the folks who lived there still hunted and gathered, we now know they relied heavily on a suite of domesticated or semi-domesticated crops — and no, we're not talking about maize — but rather a handful of species that have come to be known as the Eastern Agricultural Complex.
This is significant because unlike maize, which was domesticated in present-day Mexico, these plants are native to North America.
Our knowledge of this fundamentally rewrites our understanding of North American history and reframes our understanding of the life way of the people who inhabited this region.
And that brings us to today’s guest, Gayle Fritz, PhD. She’s a paleoethnobotanist who worked out of Washington University in St. Louis and a world expert on ancient crops. Gayle ran the Paleoethnobotany Lab at Washington University in St. Louis under the auspices of the Anthropology Department and is the author of the book, Feeding Cahokia, Early Agriculture in the North American Heartland.
If you find these kinds of topics as fascinating as we do, you’ll want a copy for your personal library.
Now retired, Gayle was kind enough to come on the show to discuss her book, her findings, and her impressions about what the diet of the Cahokian diet might have been like. She’s also passionate about the role some of these once-domesticated crops could play in our modern food systems if we were to de-extinct them — a very interesting concept to ponder.
We've noticed a trend, and you probably have too. Wherever we look in the world, we seem to find that the people who lived there in the ancient past were far more advanced and capable than we once believed. And we don’t see this trend diminishing any time soon. Thanks to folks like Gayle Fritz, we’re finally getting an unbiased look at the evidence.
View full show notes, including links to resources from this episode here: https://www.wild-fed.com/podcast/132
Food, A Trojan Horse for Knowledge with Tim Clemens — WildFed Podcast #131
Tim Clemens, AKA @MNForager on Instagram, is the founder of Ironwood Foraging Co, a Minnesota-based wild food and foraging education company, and someone Daniel's been writing back and forth with on social media for some time now.
He was formerly the president of the Minnesota Mycological Society, which gives him deep expertise on edible fungi, and he also has a degree in anthropology and archeology, so his perspectives on foraging are firmly grounded in an understanding of big human history.
Daniel and Tim finally got a chance to meet up for a podcast and discuss their foraging philosophies. Over the years, his page is one of the places we've visited to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the wild food world and to get new ideas about species we might also want to chase down, harvest, and ultimately eat ourselves.
Like Daniel, he’s not afraid to get experimental, even playing with entomophagy, eating species like invasive Japanese beetles, or making unusual recipes for his blog, like black ant ice cream.
But bigger picture, he thinks we need more, not less, people out there foraging, and for very similar reasons as us. People only care about what they know. Like Tim says in this interview, food is a trojan horse for knowledge. And while both he and Daniel are passionate about teaching people to feed themselves on foods they harvest from the landscape, ultimately, they are both really reacquainting people with nature itself. And that, beyond food, has the power to create real, positive change.
People who aren’t acquainted with nature are never going to be able to live harmoniously with it. In other words, foraging is a practice with very real and important ecological implications — both in the short term, but also on the longer timeline too.
When Tim says that — despite the challenges we face with potential over harvest or pushback we receive for harvesting from wild lands and species — more people should be out there foraging, we… couldn’t agree more.
View full show notes, including links to resources from this episode here: https://www.wild-fed.com/podcast/131
Diet Defines Us: Food, Culture & Our Past with Robyn Cutright PhD — WildFed Podcast #130
We finally get to share this episode with you today! Daniel has been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to interview Robyn Cutright, PhD, author of The Story of Food in the Human Past.
If you listen to the show regularly, you’ve probably been hearing him reference this book a lot lately, and you know we like to geek out on big human history! In particular, that stretch of time before the advent of agriculture, but especially, before industrialized food systems.
We're fascinated by what we eat, or more specifically, who we eat, since our foods starts its journey towards our mouths as living creatures. Through time our dietary diversity has diminished precipitously, to levels that are almost hard to conceive. And in that diminishment, global dietary homogeneity has been reducing our food culture towards a bland, uniformity. Not everywhere of course, but the trend is obvious and becoming global.
Not so in the past, when food choices were vast, food cultures developed independently from one another, and people groups and their dietary choices were inextricably linked. In a sense, people were their diet in a way that few of us can really imagine today — with the remoteness the general population has from the origins of what they eat and the species that adorn their plates.
But one thing that remains — though, again we don’t often think much about it — is just how much we have our identities wrapped up in the food we eat. Food choices tell us a lot about who we are, just as archeological traces of food can help us understand who we’ve been.
Take class for instance. Today, there are probably foods you imagine to be beneath you. And, there are likely foods you think of as too pretentious for you too — in other words, above your perceived class status.
That's just one example, but as you’ll hear in this interview, throughout time, food has been about a lot more than just the calories and micronutrients we’ve needed. It’s defined us and our place in our culture's cosmology. Though times have changed, and foods certainly have too, maybe this one thing has stayed the same. Food, though different, still, in a lot of ways — defines us. It’s who we are… But of course, let’s see what Robyn Cutright has to say about it! After all… she wrote the book on the topic!
View full show notes, including links to resources from this episode here: https://www.wild-fed.com/podcast/130
Ike Jime: How to Kill a Fish with Andrew Tsui — WildFed Podcast #129
Andrew Tsui is the founder of the Ike Jime Federation, and… he’s on a mission. He aims to change the way we, as commercial and recreational anglers, handle the fish we harvest. We’ll set euphemisms aside for a moment and say it clearly, Andrew wants to change the way we kill fish. In fact, he believes in what he calls A Considered Kill.
First, we should say, Ike Jime is a traditional Japanese technique for killing fish. As an island nation, Japan has always relied heavily on ocean fish for its dietary needs, and few places in the world can boast as sophisticated a seafood culinary tradition. And like so many things Japanese, the techniques for dispatching fish reached a level of near-perfection there, not just eliminating as much suffering and stress as possible, but also producing the highest quality finished food product possible.
The method, while requiring some skill, is fairly simple. Once fish are brought onto the boat or onshore, they’re quickly killed with an ice-pick-like spike inserted into their brain. Then, their gills are cut, to induce exsanguination — which simply means they are bled out — and finally a long, flexible wire — known as a Shinke Jime wire — is run through the spinal canal, destroying their spinal cord and eliminating any residual nerve impulses that would keep muscles contracting spasmodically, resulting in tissue damage, metabolic waste products, and chemical stresses that would ultimately reduce the quality of the final food product.
Lastly, the fish is rapidly cooled, not just placed on ice, but in an ice slurry that completely surrounds the fish, ensuring quick and uniform cooling.
For those of us who fish, this may sound like a lot of extra logistical steps — especially when we’re used to pulling a fish over the gunwales and tossing them into the icebox — but it’s important to note that similar steps are taken for the USDA-certified domesticated meats we purchase in the supermarket. While fish, somehow, are still killed with unregulated and antiquated methods that produce inferior finished food products.
This, in turn, reduces the value of the fish we buy and eat, meaning that commercial fishermen must harvest larger numbers of fish to be profitable. It's a quantity over quality paradigm.
That’s where Andrew Tsui comes in. He’s working hard to make Ike Jime a part of our commercial fishing fleet's tool kit. Providing both equipment and education, and working on policy as well.
It’s a lot more work, it adds complexity, and a need for anatomical knowledge and keenly honed fine motor skills. It requires patience and consistency. But let’s face it, we would never treat mammals the way we treat fish. Can you imagine just leaving cows piled on top of each other in the sun to die, convulsing? It’s unthinkable. But that’s what we’ve been doing with fish. Then we wonder why they last just a few days before spoiling.
Chefs like Josh Niland, who we’ve had on the show before, are showing us that our fish culinary tradition is still in its infancy. Andrew Tsui is showing us that it’s not just how we cook fish, but how we dispatch them as well.
So, we’ll be heading out on the water this year armed with the tools of the Ike Jime Federation. Brain spikes, Shinke Jime wires, and, of course, the knowledge of how to implement these practices, all of which can be found on IkeJimeFederation.com.
With all the time and effort we put into feeding ourselves and our families with wild foods, why would we skip these steps that can reduce stress and suffering, increase the shelf life and quality of the meat we harvest, and culminate in an eating experience that surpasses anything we could get with conventional methods.
So, have a listen, and consider becoming a forward-thinking angler. Learning to humanely dispatch fish for their own sake and for a better final food product too. Like Andrew says… these are tools for the considered kill.
Maybe it's time we all s
We’ve lost touch with our world
Love this for bringing people back to thriving instead of just surviving! Forage on!
A million stars. 🏹
If I had to create a panel of twelve people to save the world I’d put Daniel on it. I’d throw Avani on there too even though I only heard her speak once. (More please:)
Don’t be fooled by the subject of the show- hunting. I’m not interested in hunting yet I still find this the most fascinating podcast.
If you don’t want to destroy the planet- start here.
Excellent outdoors show
Daniel Vitalis does a fantastic job of bringing together brilliant people of all backgrounds to talk about all things outdoors on this show. His passion for foraging, hunting, and fishing is contagious. I am a biologist by trade, and an outdoor enthusiast at heart, and despite how much of my life has been spent outside, I always am learning when I listen to his show.