Chinatown and Beyond: Ava Chin, Urban Foraging, and a New American Cityscape

Chinatown and Beyond: Ava Chin, Urban Foraging, and a New American Cityscape Urban foraging reemerged at the turn of the twenty-first century as a hip and stylish mode of urban food production, catching the fancy of a growing number of urban dwellers around the world. From field books on the identification of wild plants, to personal accounts of gleaning the urban wilderness, urban foraging literature has quickly claimed a place on lists of best-sellers even as critical attention continues to overlook the genre. Award-winning food writer Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), lawyer-turned-forager Tama Matsuoka Wong and chef de cuisine Eddy Leroux’s field guide-cookbook Foraged Flavor (2012), and Oregon-based food activist Rebecca Lerner’s Dandelion Hunter (2013) represent a few of the many faces of British and American foragers who scavenge urban surroundings for supplemental greens, berries, mushrooms, and roots for their dinner tables. The sheer diversity of urban foraging literature published over the last ten years evinces, however, that the resurgence of this most ancient form of subsistence maybe more than an environmentalist fad of white urban elites. The processes of finding, harvesting, and consuming edible wild plants subvert the conception of American cities as environmental food deserts, offering a window through which to imagine urban space as a site of cultural and environmental sustainability. Interweaving the genres of field guide, cookbook, and memoir, Chinese American author Ava Chin’s Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal (2014) is one of a handful urban foraging narratives attesting to the gastronomic and environmentalist appeals of local, wild foods. Like most foodies, Chin first finds the sensory experience of gleaning overlooked native food sources in parks, back alleys, and public infrastructures to be a sociopolitical act countering the globalizing forces of the capitalist food regime. Foraging in an urban wilderness with a flâneur-naturalist’s leisurely stroll, her keen observations intimately reconnect her body with the materiality of urban space. Her return to urban arcades and ethnic enclaves as an Arcadia of agronomic and spiritual fertility presupposes a metropolitan center of pastoral adventure. At the same time, identifying and gathering wild plants prompt Chin to revisit her ethnic heritage to claim the primacy of not only local foods but also ancestral culinary and dietary traditions. Voting with her fork, she challenges the popular image of inner cities as an unruly urban jungle inhabited by undernourished, dislocated immigrant bodies alienated from the farmland. In Eating Wildly, Chin’s Chinese roots, in addition to providing the (ethno-)botanic knowledge necessary for harvesting and preparing foods locally, unravel how the idealism associated with urban foraging’s parochialism is, in fact, embedded within a cosmopolitan sense of the local environment. Although the culinary and alimentary trope, again, is pivotal to Chin’s racial identity formation, urban foraging, as a variant form of urban agriculture that evokes a valuable lesson on timing, allows her to trespass beyond the apparent barrenness of the urban landscape to celebrate an American cityscape of multiple layers of cultural and agricultural complexities. Foraging in the City In Eating Wildly, Chin intimately captures her journey foraging in the New York metropolis; it is a journey like that of many American middle-class urban and suburban professionals whose anxieties over industrial agriculture generates insatiable appetites for heirloom organic foods. Foraging for wild plants enacts an agricultural ethics that, while celebrating food cultivation as a form of environmental stewardship, facilitates direct contacts with the materiality of the urban environment. Writing at a historical juncture where food movements worldwide unanimously shift their focal points from food consumption (“What should we have for dinner?”) to not only food production (“Where will this dinner come from?”) but food production in urban settings, she, like many urban farming practitioners, finds foraging in the urban metropolis a viable tool for challenging the capitalist food regime. Her narrative complicates the apparent simplicity and romanticism displayed in urban foragers’ visions of the city by carefully redefining cities from food deserts of hunger and poverty to cornucopias of cultural and agricultural productivity. The ecocritical possibilities of urban foraging lie in its ability to destabilize normative understandings of the city and tease out the underlying conceptual tensions and cultural stakes of the “city-country” divide. In Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution (2012), journalist Jennifer Cockrall-King contends that “we’ve planned our cities around transportation needs, housing needs, recreational needs, and sanitation needs, all the while hoping that the rural lands around us would continue to produce food …. We are just starting to rethink our cities deliberately with our food needs in mind” (79). Nonetheless, the mainstream contemporary food movement’s celebration of community gardens, rooftop gardens, vertical farming, and urbane foraging as means to mitigate hunger and malnutrition in the urban jungle may appear another beguiling fad of the urban affluent that unabashedly breeds idealism. As Raymond Williams acutely observes in The Country and the City (1975), “a city eats what its country neighbors have grown. It is able to do so by the services it provides, in political authority, law and trade, to those who are in charge of the rural exploitation, with whom, characteristically, it is organically linked in a mutual necessity of profit and power” (50–51). Since the sixteenth century, farming and the production of foods have been associated with the countryside, and are central to the envisioning and dramatization of the city/country socioeconomic dichotomy. Economic interdependencies between rural and urban areas have intensified modern city’s material dependence on rural sectors as suppliers of foods and raw materials, however uneven and nonexclusive the synergies. Urbanization through capitalist economic diversification, as Williams contentiously cautions, exacerbates the distance between urban dwellers and the materiality of the countryside, enacting a tourist appetite for romantic agricultural rurality. The city-versus-country geographical and epistemological distance that Williams interrogates, while estheticizing country living and pastoralizing food production into a mode of play, reinforces the association of modern cities with “food deserts.” The failure to reflect on the mutually constitutive and transformative relations between the city and the country underlying the mainstream contemporary food movement instigates the romantic imagery of urban food practices. Although Williams’ investigation of the symbiotic (or parasitic) urban–rural relations quoted above has long anticipated the danger of configuring issues of urban food insecurity and food insufficiency through fantasizing rural fertility and innocence, it is only recently that activists and scholars have begun to critically reconsider the implications of imagining cities as not merely the loci of malnutrition but vibrant sites of food production. The attempts of urban agriculture advocates, such as Professor of Microbiology and Public Health Dickson D. Despommier, to restore urban productivity through technology and intensive capital investment disclose a revived attention to the materiality of urban agronomics. In The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century (2010), he offers a scientific blueprint for contemporary cities by mimicking the sustenance functions and processes of an ecosystem through hydroponic and aeroponic technologies. Following the steps of this original landmark, Lauren Mandel’s Eat Up: The Inside Scoop on Rooftop Agriculture (2013) similarly contends that the ethical imperative for feeding the urban poor through rooftop gardens rests on innovative models of commercial and technological agriculture. Tracing the histories of urban agriculture to the Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome, she inscribes cities into a politics of cultural and economic restructuring, wherein cities take on farming—the cultural mandate role of rural regions (6–7). Evoking literary critic Leo Marx’s classic “machine in the garden” pastoral trope, urban farming advocates contend that rooftop or skyscraper farming “is not simply ‘a machine in the garden’ nor ‘a garden in the machine’” where agrarian order is either disrupted or programmed by technology (McDonough ix). In maintaining that “the machine is a garden,” urban agriculture advocates dismantle the traditional city-versus-country divide and the designated socioeconomic roles of the city and the country with science, technology, and capital (McDonough ix). In backyard food plots, guerrilla gardens, and urban foraging practices, activists such as Alan Chadwick, Grace Lee Boggs, and Wendy Johnson have identified a mode of urban agriculture that redefines inner cities as a site of food and social justice cultivations. Detroit-based Chinese American civil rights icon Grace Lee Boggs (1915–2015), for instance, recognizes in community gardens the rich agricultural heritage of the United States’ various ethnicities, and its long histories of racial violence and oppression. For Boggs, “[w]e can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously” (Boggs n.p.). Blending people with their cultures and environs, urban agriculture, in addition to offering affordable fresh, healthy nonindustrial produce, facilitates an environmental literacy that nourishes food sovereignty and socioenvironmental justice. Whether through technology, capital, or community programs, urban agriculture redirects our attention to the fertility of urban landscape amidst the raw realities of political regulations, land availability, and air, water, and soil contamination. At a historical intersection which sees over 50 percent of the world’s population residing in urban settlements (United Nations 1), the pertinent question for ecocritics, then, is no longer how humanity can secure the sustainable existence of wilderness, pastoral landscapes, and natural environments of “a less urbanized, more ‘natural’ state of existence” as sites of play and worship, and with what language, form, and imagery (Buell, Imagination 31). Rather, the pressing task is how the mainstream contemporary food movement transforms urban wilderness into sustainable habitats through both producing healthy foods and re-enchanting humans’ relations with the material complexities of urban space. As early as the 1980s and 1990s, ecocritics such as Rachel Stein, T. V. Reed, and Julie Sze have examined how race, class, and gender produce environmental stratification. At the center of this environmental justice movement is the struggle against ghettoization, poisoning, food insecurity, and forms of racialized environmental burdens that have instigated the “urban jungle” and the “urban wilderness” images of the city. And yet, even environmental justice critics and activists who have shifted focus to the uneven distribution of environmental resources and risks tend to essentialize cities as unproductive and infertile sites. Defined negatively in terms of what Lawrence Buell describe as “urban and other severely altered, damaged landscapes” of impurity and insufficiency, they are quick to recognize the structural violence of ecologically-related aggression and violence, especially those experienced in inner cities (Future 88). They overlook the complexities of urban materiality, that is, how matters and ecological processes, while heedlessly resisting human domination, continue to configure urban life. In one of the first ecocritical studies of the urban environment, Michael Bennett interrogates the bourgeois ideologies that dichotomize space into “pastoral gardens” and “urban squalors.” He writes, These sociopolitical developments will not be possible unless concerned environmentalists … contest the very visible anti-urban ideology that permeates our culture (including much of mainstream environmentalism and ecocriticism) and reveal the often invisible social effects of this ideology as it is used to construct and enforce the increasingly fortified boundaries of America’s ghettos. (184) As a form of urban agriculture of the recent “back-to-the-city” phenomenon that exults cities as a new sites for the production of authentic foods, urban foraging unsettles the city–country divide and may be considered an experimental platform for socioenvironmental innovation and intervention. How do Chin’s practices, foraging and eating wildly, participate in urban agriculture and mainstream contemporary food movements’ “assumed the role of cultural and political arbiter of agriculture and value,” and how has this trend assigned “a distinctive value to the urban version [of growing food]” (Ching and Creed 111, 113)? What does it mean to reconnect the dislocated bodies of urbanites with the materiality of urban space through these fashionable wild edible hunts? How do these leisurely foraging strolls in metropolitan centers subvert received perceptions of inner cities’ barrenness and emptiness? Harvesting and preparing food wildly is, in fact, embedded within a cosmopolitan sense of the local environment. Foraging in Chinatown and Beyond A third-generation Chinese American and associate professor of creative nonfiction and journalism at the City University of New York, Chin writes with great feeling of her experiences making sense of the rich cultural and ecological heritage of her immediate urban vicinity. Eating Wildly marks the culmination of her longtime creative endeavor, beautifully weaving her short stories of Asian American intergenerational tensions with her New York Times columns on urban foraging. Her experience gleaning forgotten wild food sources in urban ethnic enclaves parallels her ongoing attempts to understand her Chinese American roots. Drawing on both naturalist science and the traditional ecological knowledge she inherited from her grandparents, she employs familiar tropes and themes of “a wild hunt” that foodies around the globe relied upon while envisioning a cityscapes characterized by agricultural productivity. Chin first participates in the alternative food movement’s ongoing critique of the industrialist food paradigm by presenting urban foraging as the most viable means of securing a healthy, organic diet. In the concluding chapter of her book, “When Food Was Food,” she explains how the act of food consumption has become a nutritional and health precautionary measure against what leading American food journalist and activist Michael Pollan most fittingly calls “edible foodlike substances” (Defense 1): I’d met freegans committed to living off the food grid, foodies and chefs interested in finding wild mushrooms or sweet summer berries …. Nearly everyone I spoke to was suspicious of big agriculture and genetically modified foods. Most were eager to return to the days when food was food, without a long list of additives and preservatives. (215) On gustatory and alimentary levels, the untamable wildness and hence naturalness of “weeds” in urban environments ensure the flavor and quality of the foods urbanites consume through their low food miles (A. Chin 91, 180). On sociopolitical levels, the localness and easy accessibility of these neighborhood plants empower local communities and mobilize grassroots resistance movements against the global food regime. Gathering uncultivated herbs, vegetables, and fruits conventionally known as “unwanted, alien invasives” in urban vicinities features a familiar ethic of the wild employed by organic enthusiasts in their critique of agribusiness’s manipulation of output and productivity (A. Chin 180). Part of the point of working the land, Chin claims, is to “promote access to healthy, sustainable food for everyone—especially within our most disenfranchised neighborhoods” (223). Unlike cheap, colorful, farm products with long shelf-lives that are manufactured by agribusinesses, wild foods provide a readily available medium through which the estranged bodies of urban consumers reconnect directly with seasonal changes to their food sources. Foraging in one’s immediate vicinity, the minimal food mileage reknits the broken link between alienated consumers and a landscape of moral and agronomic purity, alleviating food safety risks generated during the production, manufacturing, and distribution processes of factory farming. As Darrin Nordahl concurs in Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture (2009), urban foraging, as a mode of food production, has been “a cost effective way for individuals and families to put nutritious food on the table, and the ability to harvest public produce presents a great opportunity for those facing hunger or who generally can only afford to eat poorly” (78). Philosophers Peter Singer and Jim Mason similarly argue that scavenging food waste is “the ultimate ethical cheap eats”; they write, “you’re not buying into that whole process of consumption. Even buying organic food involves being part of the consumer economy. Dumpstering really does break the consumer chain” (257, 262). Although Chin’s anti-consumerist critique in Easting Wildly never proceeds to embrace one’s moral duty and political responsibility to wage open battle on world hunger and food injustice through foraging leftover foods from dumpsters, her remark affirms the perpetual nutritional and health appeals of rummaging wild plants. Chin’s passionately-written urban foraging narrative, interestingly, poses more questions about the cultural politics of ethical eating than it initially undertakes to answer, especially when its title, “Eating Wildly,” is taken at face value and accepted as the premise of the book. The numerous field guides on foraging and cooking wild edibles published since Euell Gibbons’s “Stalking the Wild Food” series in 1960s and 1970s demonstrate the ongoing appeal of both the materiality of wildness and the ethical vision of the wilderness’s “nothing-ness” (Chou 163).1 Foragers and skeptics take organic wildness at face value as something radically free of human-instigated influences, celebrating, for instance, what forager Samuel Thayer calls “sustenance directly from the Earth” (2). Complications do not emerge, so much, from urban foragers’ endeavors to determine what constitutes the wild in big cities, or whether the taste of the wild could actually be found in cities, or other ultimately built-up environments. Rather, the main point of contention concerning eating wildly in cities lies in perceptions of wildness as a critical discourse and cultural framework for the active advancement of ethical food production and consumption. In this latest “how to eat” genre, critics such as Julie Guthman, Rachel Slocum, Patricia Allen, Susie O’Brien, and Alison Hope Alkon identify an epidemic of indifference to the workings of race, gender, and class within alternative food movements’ own formulation and negotiation of food insecurity and hunger (Guthman, “Commentary” 261). For them, food activists have been so obsessed with fighting food insecurity issues that they have been unreflective about the white, middle-class positions of their own grounds of inquiry. The preoccupation with the question and problem of privilege leads activists to a fixation on the affordability and accessibility of healthy, wild foods, obscuring the fact that these enthusiasts themselves have also been animated and, hence, hindered “by a set of discourses that derive from whitened cultural histories” (Guthman, “Good Food” 434). In other words, the alternative food movements are overshadowed by a color blindness that invests in the desire to “work the land” and the meanings of “natural” and “organic” foods as universal (Guthman, “Good Food” 435). As I would also add, the mainstream contemporary food movement’s accentuation of food insufficiency and food insecurity as central concerns further reflects an urban sensibility that, while persistently deferring the responsibility of food production and distribution to the countryside, assumes urbanites’ status as passive and victimized recipients in the global food chain. Bringing a much needed awareness to the provisioning of “culturally appropriate” foods, they highlight the urgency of critically considering the urban, middle-class whiteness of the food movement (Slocum 327). Paying attention to cultural practices not only facilitates a more nuanced food movement sensitive to the cultural and ethnic diversity of food and agricultural traditions, but also allowing creative engagements with issues of hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity. Chin’s urban foraging narrative, at a first glance, appears as yet another variation of the nostalgic urban food cult wherein the structural violence of food insecurity and community alliances are overlooked in favor of the rigid epistemological binary between a desolate city of capitalist ecocide and a secluded landscape of authentic delights. Her remark on the disavowed foragers of the New York metropolis, however, suggests otherwise. Toward the end of her journey hunting for wild edibles and for love, she declares, I talked about the hidden foragers—those immigrant grandmotherly types I’d encountered in Fort Greene and Prospect parks practicing the foraging habits of their homelands. They, and we, were engaging in a kind of pre-agricultural endeavor that kept us tied close to the land. It wasn’t such an odd thing in other parts of the world—I knew of Russian, Korean, and French foragers who grew up gathering edibles with their families. (214–15) Coming from a Chinese American family, Chin’s ethnic heritage undermines the stereotyping of urban foraging as a simple reactionary gesture that springs from white middle-class Americans’ self-interested concerns over food insecurity and moral panic over the need to invent viable technologies to feed the world. One is tempted to discount the political strain of Chin’s concluding reflection here as she seems to dwell on feminized and racialized images of foragers via romantic symbols of a nurturing immigrant grandmother or an abundant Mother Earth. The image of immigrant grandmothers immediately reminds her readers of the expression, “just like grandma used to make,” reinforcing, again, the loss of a past of “genuine,” “authentic” nonhuman world. Her conception of foraging as a sustainable but endangered food production method vulnerable to Western influences nostalgically employs the familiar “nature knows best” vocabulary of the alternative food movement. Chin’s comment that “the United States had lost its foraging culture by forcing Native Americans off the land, and food was subsequently taken over by big agribusiness” likewise overlooks the complex histories in which foraging is exorcized, and the ethical, spiritual, and environmental underpinnings of “sacred ecology,” “ecological wisdom,” and other forms of indigenous ecological knowledge (A. Chin 215).2 Yet when stories of immigrant grandmothers are contextualized within larger histories of foraging, Chin’s urban procuring journey brings to the fore a notion of urban foraging anchored not only in non-Western botanic knowledge systems but also the everyday experiences of ethnic Americans. The invocation of dying customs and habits prompts us to reassess urban foragers’ profound sense of nostalgia, such as that conveyed during Chin’s encounters with ginkgoes (7), cloud ear fungus (11–21), and other ingredients of traditional Chinese medicinal value in Chinatown’s street markets and beyond (17). These uncovered scavenging practices debunk the stereotyping of urban foraging as mere unsustainable, quixotic quests of white cultural and political elite. The celebration of traditional ecological knowledge discloses the cultural hybridity of urban foraging practice, redeeming it from what Time magazine designated as one of the trendy “Top 10 Food Trends” (Ozersky). A twist to the popular “how to eat” genre, Chin’s ethnic American food production heritage questions the whiteness and urbanity of contemporary American food epistemology and the preeminence of food and gastronomy as redemptive interventions into food insecurity. Synchronously complementing each other, the multiple bodies of ecological knowledge evoked by Chin in Eating Wildly create possibilities for inhabiting the city through re-enchantment. Like Peterson Field Guides’ naturalist Roger Tory Peterson (1908–96), foraging guru Euell Gibbons (1911–75), and Manhattan celebrity forager “Wildman” Steve Brill, Chin embarks on the natural sciences in orienting herself towards bodily and spiritual reconnection with the environment during her foraging field expeditions. In the chapter “Foraging Eyes: Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca),” for instance, she recalls, The leaves [of motherwort] were shaped like a lion’s tail, and I thought about the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz combing the end of his tail between his paws. I rubbed a leaf between my fingers. The motherwort was less fuzzy than the common mallow and smelled like my grandfather’s desk drawer—a repository for curios and odd mementos: pressed handkerchiefs embroidered with someone else’s initials, buffalo nickels, an old extracted tooth. I’d first learned of Leonurus cardiaca from a Chinese doctor in Brooklyn, who recommended it for uterine issues like hormonal imbalances and spot bleeding. In Old English, wort meant “plant,” and I loved the idea of a mothering plant that could aid my feminine issues and clam my nerves. According to David Hoffmann’s The Herbal Handbook, motherwort was use for menstrual conditions, as a relaxant during menopause, and as a tonic for the heart. Back then, I’d tried the herb in pill form and found it incredibly dry and bitter—I had to drink an entire glass of water to get it down…. But here it was alive and thriving in the middle of downtown Boulder. (100) Entrenched in the Western naturalist tradition, Chin’s field notes and reflections here resemble the many wildlife handbooks that capture animals, plants, and minerals through taxonomic names, field marks, and mimetic illustrations for reliable field identification and investigation, even though these guides might not be directed toward foraging in urban environments per se. Interestingly, her field notes, like the recipes that conclude each chapter of Eating Wildly, constitute the basis of an accurate and, hence, authentic experience of the nonhuman world in which urbanites’ yearning for spiritual resonance is satisfied, despite the capacity of science and scientific realism to verify the revelation or the “truth about nature” has been demonstrated to be a fallacy (Phillips vii). As ecocritic Dana Phillips observes, “[w]e assume that the truth about nature is straightforward. Many of us still believe that ecologists can meet our need for a better understanding of natural processes simply by thinking ‘like a mountain,’ as Aldo Leopold once urged them and all of us to do” (vii). Information and the details of natural science not only provide instructions on species recognition and field experience, but facilitate a genuine and real experience of the nonhuman world that enacts nature writers’ perpetual “ritual invocation of the moment of epiphany” (Phillips 5). With knowledge of a nonhuman world laid out by straight facts and scientific objectivity, her unmediated contact with motherwort through food gathering sustains a moment of revelation in which she rejoices over the presence of wildness in an ultimate human landscape. Rather than modes of simple nostalgic longing, Chinese medicinal heritage and traditional ecological knowledge become portals to a whole new level of the human and nonhuman urban reality from which she was estranged. They enable her to scrutinize and comprehend beyond mere appearance, and to receive ideas of the everyday cityscape, as well as the supposed authenticity, homogeneity, and immutability of the nonhuman nature. Chin’s appreciation of the cross-culturally accepted healing powers of motherwort and urban wild edibles unshackles traditional knowledge from its inherited particularistic, parochial, and insular status to embody cosmopolitan localism. Traditional forms of ecological knowledge and worldviews have routinely been acknowledged as antidotes to crises of Western modernity––to humanity’s alienation from the nonhuman, and from what a great number of American environmental scientists, philosophers and writers would conceptualize as nature’s harmony, equilibrium, and order.3 Chin’s comment on the healing properties of motherwort in women’s health reveals the practical significance of traditional ecological instructions that she is exposed to as a Chinese American urban forager. Although not verified by Western positivist science, this orally-transmitted empirical information and these insights, as knowledge of “a situated process tied to a specific place,” have become disruptive interventions into the mechanisms, reductionism and universalism of Western sciences (Berkes 5). The wildness constituting the foods she foraged in urban environments are reminders of a resilient, untamable nonhuman world. A liberating source of reenchantment, her ethnic heritage unveils a city of cultural and agronomic complexities. From her grandfather, a first-generation Chinese American restaurant worker in Manhattan, she has acquired ethnobotanic lessons on wun yee (cloud ear fungus), dong gu (shiitake mushrooms), chrysanthemum blossoms, red hawthorn berries, and dong quai passed down through the generations in the Chinese American community by word of mouth (17–18). She explains, “I’m not sure how Grandpa knew what he knew––whether his parents had taught him or he’d learned from the cooks at the restaurant” (18). These empirical insights on wild mushroom, herbs, and greens bestowed upon her are, as she repeatedly claims, all about “timing” (A. Chin 9, 139, 156, 196, 224, 229), that is, as the subtitle of her nature writing, Eating Wildly, indicates, rummaging and “foraging for life, love and the perfect meal” at the “right” time and right place (139). Just as Chin later learns to forage for garlic mustard by distinguishing it from other, poisonous grasses, by recognizing it “in all of its different stages” (196), “history, shape, and forms” (84), a forager attentive to timing demands the building of the “little knowledge” and “right perspective” of seeing the nonhuman in its multiple temporalities and spatialities (196). Procuring garlic mustard in an urban wilderness at the right moment requires both an understanding of the city as well as comprehensive knowledge of garlic mustard’s taxonomy, behavior patterns, and interactions with other aspects of the human and nonhuman world across historic and geologic time. It also demands familiarity with the songs, legends, beliefs, practices, and politics that continue to shape, and be shaped by, the wild garlic mustard for cultivation and harvest. By knowledge of wild edibles, and by her Chinese American heritage, enables foragers, like Chin, to move beyond the appearance of a barren and lifeless urban environment as conceptualized by Western mechanistic science. Her celebration of timing parallels the recent materialist approach of ecocriticism toward “a story-laden mode of reenchantment” where the processes of interaction and becoming are reclaimed (Cohen x). As ecocritics Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann elucidate in their introduction to Material Ecocriticism (2014), “[t]his world … is far from being a ‘pure exterior’ … and it is also far from being ‘pure.’ It is filled instead with intermingling agencies and forces that persist and change over eons, producing new forms, bodies, and natures” (1). Enchanted by her discovery of a mulberry tree standing in a familiar passageway, Chin is struck by a dawning realization that her search for reconciliation with her divorced mother, and for a husband in her late thirties, are constitutive of her urban foraging journey. As she indicates, “I had started to understand that everything in nature was cyclical, everything interrelated. And the timing of things was key …. Instead of wishing for something or someone to be there that wasn’t, I could now see clearly before me what was” (224–25); “everything came together––under the right timing, in balance with nature” (229). Foraging according to traditional ecological practices and worldview leads Chin to a temporal sense of the world wherein life, love, and urban wild edibles are all part of a cumulative process of becoming. Recognizing the interrelatedness of the human and nonhuman natures also registers an ethics of relations in which human and nonhuman nature are constantly situated within a larger moral and ethical context in a state of nature–culture balance. In this sense, her comment on the interrelatedness of the human and nonhuman world manifests Chinese or Taoist principles of “nature/Nature,” or tzu-jan. Ethicist Wei-Ming Tu writes of the idea of tzu-jan, or literally “self-so-ness,” “[t]he idea of an all-enfolding harmony involves two interrelated meanings. It means that nature is all-inclusive, the spontaneously self-generating life process which excludes nothing” (71). Tzu-jan implies that “internal resonance underlies the order of things in the universe” and that despite conflict and tension, “the deep structure of nature is always tranquil” (Tu 71). The interconnectedness of nature prompts her to see the wild edibles and the nonhuman urban environment into a state of being where the human and the nonhuman each participate in ongoing interactions of becoming. In doing so, her search for wild edibles participates in what Robert Ji-Song Ku suggests is the “politics of the dubious,” which undermines ethnic gastronomic authenticity as an invention that “rel[ies] on transcendental means to answer questions posed by a reality deemed untidy and undesirable” (4). Chin’s urban foraging journey shares many American nature writers’ and environmentalists’ faith in, and fancy for, vernacular forms of knowledge in redressing the epistemological effects of Western modernity. Embedded within Chin’s celebration of Chinese American heritage is a situated process of knowledge production tied to local culture and grounded in empirical understandings of nonhuman nature. Like them, local, traditional knowledge, for Chin, serves to “solve problems of human survival, such as food production, communication, healing, building and mobility” or “constitute social identities by providing reflective resources to assess reality and other kinds of knowledge” (Renn 375). When the situatedness of traditional ecological knowledge comes to entail a sense of localness and intimacy, these geographically or culturally specific bodies of knowledge also emerge as powerful tools for re-enchantment and reconnection. As Dana Phillips observes, American nature writers and environmental activists have been “trying to discover an ethnological solution to the problem of our alleged alienation from the natural world” by enshrining indigenous people’s union with nature (222–23). In sprawling metropolises where wild edibles become objects of the gaze, ethnic medical and gastronomic traditions have become sources of liberation and hope. For Chin, however, the conceptual and cultural efficacy of local, community-based knowledge lies as much in the offering of globally applicable and relevant solutions as in the interrogation of the expected roles and boundaries of the local. The fact that motherwort, cloud ear fungus, and other place-based ethnic ecological knowledge transgress cultural borders illustrates what Fikret Berkes writes in Sacred Ecology as the “complementarity of traditional and Western knowledge at a practical level,” and, most significantly, “the need for conceptual pluralism” (145). Ethnic cultures and practices contribute to Western modernity particularly at the level of the worldview, where locally-developed or locally-relevant traditional beliefs and practices provide not only a reflexive space but the vocabulary, grammar, and framework for what he calls “the discussion of ecological ethics and … the sacred” (Berkes xviii). Chin’s dependence on both premodern Chinese and contemporary Western insights on foraging generates pertinent questions about environmentalists’ ethical-political investments in ethnoscience and local, empirical practices, and the functionality of the rural and the traditional in the configuration of cities as environments of agricultural productivity. Foraging in the city, Chin embarks on a food production practice that continues to draw from ethnic ecological thoughts. By so doing, her journey displays an urgency to salvage ethnic knowledge from being estheticized objects of gaze to become an everyday practice. Although the intersectionality of race, gender, class, and the environment never occupies the center of Chin’s imagining of the city, she has problematized the perceived roles of local, ethnic practices, complicating their supposed authenticity and exoticism. Reframing traditional ecological knowledge within a larger cross-culture framework, she propels a nonhuman urban nature of transcultural interactive relations. Foraging for a New American Cityscape An ancient but evergreen mode of food production imbued with redemptive political and ethnical imaginings, Chin’s urban foraging practice is embedded within an ethnic ecological conception of the city, where the everyday practices of eating and walking constitute the production of the city as a site of material dynamics and agricultural possibilities. Interestingly, when contextualized within a larger Asian American literary framework, her urban foraging journey also registers the familiar plot of an Asian American bildungsroman where the arts of gastronomy and flânerie are exhaustively enacted as mediating devices that help negotiate the young protagonist’s sense of belonging with his/her multiple cultural identities. In fact, one of the most mesmerizing and yet disturbing appeals of Eating Wildly is perhaps Chin’s scattered childhood memories at her immigrant grandparents’ clustered kitchen in Flushing, Queens, purchasing, cooking, and eating foreign foods during her divorced mother’s absence. She recalls these early gastronomic adventures formative to her urban foraging techniques and cultural identity, “[m]embers of my family claim that I ate anything my grandfather fed me, including fish eyeballs, which I later vehemently denied, although I do have a vague memory of eating something round and gelatinous, with a texture like vanilla pudding” (13); “I’d plop myself down at the kitchen table where my grandfather … would share his meals with me: a slab of perfectly seared liver just out of the pan, or sizzling flash-fried bok choy with shiitakes” (13). Highlighting memories of the culinary surprises of her grandfather, whose work at “various Manhattan restaurants” have actually helped him develop a palate “so diversified that he could make almost anything well” rather than just outlandish Chinese dishes, Chin in various anecdotes reduces Asian foodways, everyday practices, cultural traditions into pleasure objects for both bourgeois and white consumption (12). Despite ethnic gastronomy eventually giving rise to a transcultural articulation of food practices, foraging in the urban enclaves, she performs the role of a cultural tour guide who makes of wild (ethnic) culinary ingredients a new urban spectacle. Through graphic visual and acoustic imagery, her ceremonious and deliberate dramatization of ethnic food ingredients reproduces a quintessentially Asian American mother–daughter conflict storyline in which the conventional trope of ethnic foodways is ritually displayed as racial markers of the unassimilable, “invasive weeds” and immigrants, whose difference/Otherness the American-born generations simultaneously resist and embrace in subject formation (A. Chin 91, 180). Chin’s quest for a wholesome food and selfhood perpetuates the legacies of Jade Snow Wong’s Fifth Chinese Daughter (1950), Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989), Frank Chin’s Donald Duk (1991), Lan Cao’s Monkey Bridge (1997) and other Asian American coming-of-age novels where ethnic foods and foodways are persistently invoked as both the medium and product of identity formation. Foods, as Shirley Geok-lin Lim observes, “serve as crucial markers for place and community, not just of a people but of a territorialized nation” (298); and within a larger Asian American literary context, alimentary images have come to symbolize what Sau-ling Cynthia Wong remarks as “all the hardships, deprivations, restrictions, disenfranchisements, and dislocations that Asian Americans have collectively suffered as immigrants and minorities in a white-dominated country” (20). The recurrence of gastronomy in Asian American literature such as Eating Wildly, indeed, testifies to the centrality of food in reconfiguring Asian American identity, citizenship, and belonging. They act as haunting reminders of the entrenched political institutions and racist structures that continue to reinstantiate and reinscribe Asian Americans into the category of an ethnic group that is culturally—if not genetically—programmed to cook and eat tasty foods. The various incidences of self-Orientalization in Chin’s narrative inform the genre of “food pornography” (F. Chin 3). It is a genre in which ethnic authors eschew a narrative of assimilation through domesticating their Otherness and making “a living by exploiting the ‘exotic’ aspects of one’s ethnic foodways” (Wong 55). The unfading interest in food pornography among white readers conceals not only the embedded structure of racism that commodifies ethnic foodways, but also the status of food as “a critical medium for compliance with and resistance to Americanization, a means for enacting the ambiguities of an Asian-ethnic American identity that is already in a constant state of flux” (Ho 3). More importantly, however, Chin’s urban food foraging journey redirects critical attention that reads the exoticization of ethnic foods as a gateway to understanding ethnic subjectivity and identity politics to what Joni Adamson notes is a scholarship that “too often failed to account for the diversity of non-Western cultures and ecological lifeways both inside and outside U.S. borders” (xiv). To ascribe Eating Wildly to the realm of ethnic food literature is to overlook the dynamics of ethnic American ecological knowledge and ethnic Americans’ experience of the human and nonhuman world. The urban excursions which Chin undertakes in search of “life, love and the perfect meal” (Eating Wildly subtitle) evoke the popular trope of ethnic foodways, but her urban foraging strolls are indicative of her role as a naturalist-flâneur, who, instead of drifting through urban arcades seeking and absorbing the meaning of modernity, goes, literally, in the words of Walter Benjamin, “botanizing on the asphalt” (36). Chin writes, I am walking along a secluded, wooded path in a park in Brooklyn—my favorite place to forage for wild edibles in the city. My backpack is filled with plastic bags, a worn field edition of Euell Gibbons’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and a box cutter that doubles as a knife. The wood mulch and dirt are damp beneath my sneakers as I make the slow climb up toward my destination. Down below, cyclists and joggers are making their way along the road that loops through the park, and I can hear the resounding clomp of a horse along the bridle path. In the height of early autumn, everything below is obscured by a rich tangle of leaves just starting to turn reddish gold in the morning light. (3) At once a flâneur and a naturalist, Chin’s dual ecological identities subvert the white gaze of the flâneur, who, by distancing himself from the mindless urban crowds, produces a voyeuristic, interpersonal knowledge of the metropolis that celebrates the restlessness, turbulence, and ephemerality of modern urban living. Strolling in the promenade like a Parisian flâneur, she is a solitary (ethno-)botanist who, while observing, identifying, and collecting wild ingredients, reconfigures cities as untamable wild landscapes of agronomic abundance. She claims rights to the city, enjoying a flâneur’s spatial mobility; but, equipped with both Western and non-Western environmental bodies of knowledge, she is able to cross the spatial boundary of modern cities that captures cities as barren and controlled landscapes of human engineering, to experience the metropolis as a biologically-diverse and environmentally-complex habitat of height, depth, and breadth. Through a flâneur-naturalist’s leisurely stroll, Chin’s disengagement from the roaming crowd generates a poetic distance that enables her to produce a panoramic knowledge of the city characterized by ephemerality, although this “elusive[ness],” embodied as much by the search as by the object of the search, suggests a nonhuman world of its own self-generating patterings (7). Taking on urban foraging as a mythic quest, she writes, “[y]ou may think you know what you want, and expend a lot of energy and dogged determination making lists and plans for obtaining it … only to find it shimmering elsewhere, like a golden chalice, just out of reach” (7). Foraging in the city, Chin re-enchants and re-inhabits the city by recovering her ethnic traditions and integrating ethnic and Western ecological knowledge. As Michael Pollan rightly argues, “what I was really after in taking up hunting and gathering: to see what it’d be like to prepare and eat a meal in full consciousness of what was involved … to look as far into the food chains that support us as I could look, and recover the fundamental biological realities that the complexities of modern industrialized eating keep from our view” (Omnivore 281). A native New Yorker and a Chinese American writer, Chin responds movingly to alternative food movements’ concerns over food production. For her, urban foraging is a practice through which the estranged bodies of modern consumers are reconnected to the materiality of the nonhuman world, even though this nonhuman nature had oftentimes been culturally transfigured and reinvented by science, technology, and the market economy. Footnotes 1 See Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop (1964), Stalking the Healthful Herbs (1966), Stalking the Good Life (1966), and Stalking the Faraway Places (1973). 2 See, for instance, the notion of “sacred ecology” in David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson’s Wisdom of the Elders: Sacred Native Stories of Nature (1992) and Fikret Berkes’s Sacred Ecology (2008), and the notion of “ecological wisdom” in J. Baird Callicott’s In Defense of the Land Ethic (1989). 3 The view of the natural world as “balance,” “harmony,” and “order” was first advanced by American ecologists such as Frederic Clements’s notion of vegetation succession and Eugene Odum’s ecosystem biology in the first half of the twenty-first century. These scientific theories was popularized by environmental historians such as Donald Worster, deep ecologists such as J. Baird Callicott, and others after the 1960s as a utopian worldview corrective to the disenchanted mechanistic reductionism of Western sciences. For critique of this obsession with ecological harmony, equilibrium and order, see most notably Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature (1990), Daniel B. Botkin’s Discordant Harmonies (1990), and Dana Phillips’s The Truth of Ecology (2003), pp. 42–51. Works Cited Adamson Joni. Foreword. Asian American Literature and the Environment . Ed. Fitzsimmons Lorna et al. Routledge , 2015 . xiii – xvii . Benjamin Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism . Trans. Zorn Harry . New Left Books , 1973 . Bennett Michael. “Manufacturing the Ghetto: Anti-urbanism and the Spatialization of Race.” The Nature of Cities: Ecocriticism and Urban Environments . Ed. Bennett Michael , Teague David W. . U of Arizona P , 1999 . 169 – 88 . Bennett Michael , Teague David W. , ed. The Nature of Cities: Ecocriticism and Urban Environments . U of Arizona P , 1999 . Berkes Fikret. Sacred Ecology . 3rd ed . Routledge , 2012 . Boggs Grace Lee. “Seeds of Change.” Bill Moyers Journal. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service, 15 June 2007 . Buell Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture . Harvard UP , 1995 . Buell Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination . Blackwell , 2005 . Callicott J. Baird , Ames Roger T. , ed. Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy . State U of New York P , 1989 . Print. Chin Ava. Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal . Simon & Schuster , 2014 . Chin Frank. The Chinaman Pacific & Frisco R.R. Co.: Short Stories . Coffee House P , 1988 . Ching Barbara , Gerald Creed. “Eaten Up: Urban Foraging and Rural Identity.” Studies in Urbanormativity: Rural Community in Urban Society . Ed. Fulkerson Gregory M. , Thomas Alexander R. . Lexington Books , 2014 . 111 – 27 . Chou Shiuhhuah Serena. “Pruning the Past, Shaping the Future: David Mas Masumoto and Organic Nothingness.” MELUS 34 , no. 2 ( 2009) : 157 – 74 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Cockrall-King Jennifer. Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution . Prometheus Books , 2012 . Cohen Jeffrey Jerome. “Foreword: Storied Matter.” Material Ecocriticism . Ed. Iovino Serenella , Oppermann Serpil . Indiana UP , 2014 . ix – xii . Fitzsimmons Lorna , Chae Youngsuk , Adams Bella , ed. Asian American Literature and the Environment . Routledge , 2015 . Fulkerson Gregory M. , Thomas Alexander R. ed. Studies in Urbanormativity: Rural Community in Urban Society . Lexington Books , 2014 . Guthman Julie. “Bringing Good Food to Others: Investigating the Subjects of Alternative Food Practice.” Cultural Geographies 15 , no. 4 ( 2008) : 431 – 47 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Guthman Julie . “Commentary on Teaching Food: Why I Am Fed Up with Michael Pollan et al.” Agriculture and Human Value 24 , no. 2 ( 2007) : 261 – 64 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Ho Jennifer Ann. Consumption and Identity in Asian American Coming-of-Age Novels . Routledge , 2012 . Iovino Serenella , Oppermann Serpil . “Introduction: Stories Come to Matter.” Material Ecocriticism. Ed. Iovino Serenella , Oppermann Serpil . Indiana UP , 2014 . 1 – 17 . Iovino Serenella , Oppermann Serpil , ed. Material Ecocriticism. Indiana UP , 2014 . Ku Robert Ji-Song. Dubious Gastronomy: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the USA . U of Hawai‘i P , 2014 . Lim Shirley Geok-lin. “Identifying Foods, Identifying Selves.” Massachusetts Review 45 , no. 3 ( 2004) : 297 – 305 . McDonough William. Foreword. Second Nature Urban Agriculture: Designing Productive Cities . Ed. Viljoen André , Bohn Katrin . Routledge , 2014 . Nordahl Darrin. Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture . Island P , 2009 . Ozersky Josh. “Top 10 Food Trends.” Time. Time Inc., 7 Dec. 2011 . Phillips Dana. The Truth of Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature in America . Oxford UP , 2003 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pollan Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto . Penguin P , 2008 . Pollan Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals . Penguin P , 2006 . Renn Jürgen , ed. The Globalization of Knowledge in History . vol. 1 . Edition Open Access , 2012 . Renn Jürgen. “Survey: The Place of Local Knowledge in the Global Community.” The Globalization of Knowledge in History , vol. 1 . Ed. Renn Jürgen . Edition Open Access , 2012 . 369 – 97 . Singer Peter , Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter . Rodale , 2006 . Slocum Rachel. “Anti-racist Practice and the Work of Community Food Organizations.” Antipode 38 , no. 2 ( 2006) : 327 – 49 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Thayer Samuel. The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants . Forager’s Harvest P , 2006 . Tu Wei-Ming. “The Continuity of Being: Chinese Visions of Nature.” Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought . Ed. Baird Callicott J. , Ames Roger T. . State U of New York P , 1989 . 67 – 78 . United Nations . Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, Highlights . United Nations , 2014 . Viljoen André , Katrin Bohn , ed. Second Nature Urban Agriculture: Designing Productive Cities . Routledge , 2014 . Williams Raymond. The Country and the City . Oxford UP , 1974 . Wong Sau-ling Cynthia. Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance . Princeton UP , 1993 . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment Oxford University Press

Chinatown and Beyond: Ava Chin, Urban Foraging, and a New American Cityscape

Loading next page...
 
/lp/ou_press/chinatown-and-beyond-ava-chin-urban-foraging-and-a-new-american-TsjiCiY8Nv
Publisher
Association for the Study of Literature and Environment
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
ISSN
1076-0962
eISSN
1759-1090
D.O.I.
10.1093/isle/isy009
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Urban foraging reemerged at the turn of the twenty-first century as a hip and stylish mode of urban food production, catching the fancy of a growing number of urban dwellers around the world. From field books on the identification of wild plants, to personal accounts of gleaning the urban wilderness, urban foraging literature has quickly claimed a place on lists of best-sellers even as critical attention continues to overlook the genre. Award-winning food writer Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), lawyer-turned-forager Tama Matsuoka Wong and chef de cuisine Eddy Leroux’s field guide-cookbook Foraged Flavor (2012), and Oregon-based food activist Rebecca Lerner’s Dandelion Hunter (2013) represent a few of the many faces of British and American foragers who scavenge urban surroundings for supplemental greens, berries, mushrooms, and roots for their dinner tables. The sheer diversity of urban foraging literature published over the last ten years evinces, however, that the resurgence of this most ancient form of subsistence maybe more than an environmentalist fad of white urban elites. The processes of finding, harvesting, and consuming edible wild plants subvert the conception of American cities as environmental food deserts, offering a window through which to imagine urban space as a site of cultural and environmental sustainability. Interweaving the genres of field guide, cookbook, and memoir, Chinese American author Ava Chin’s Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal (2014) is one of a handful urban foraging narratives attesting to the gastronomic and environmentalist appeals of local, wild foods. Like most foodies, Chin first finds the sensory experience of gleaning overlooked native food sources in parks, back alleys, and public infrastructures to be a sociopolitical act countering the globalizing forces of the capitalist food regime. Foraging in an urban wilderness with a flâneur-naturalist’s leisurely stroll, her keen observations intimately reconnect her body with the materiality of urban space. Her return to urban arcades and ethnic enclaves as an Arcadia of agronomic and spiritual fertility presupposes a metropolitan center of pastoral adventure. At the same time, identifying and gathering wild plants prompt Chin to revisit her ethnic heritage to claim the primacy of not only local foods but also ancestral culinary and dietary traditions. Voting with her fork, she challenges the popular image of inner cities as an unruly urban jungle inhabited by undernourished, dislocated immigrant bodies alienated from the farmland. In Eating Wildly, Chin’s Chinese roots, in addition to providing the (ethno-)botanic knowledge necessary for harvesting and preparing foods locally, unravel how the idealism associated with urban foraging’s parochialism is, in fact, embedded within a cosmopolitan sense of the local environment. Although the culinary and alimentary trope, again, is pivotal to Chin’s racial identity formation, urban foraging, as a variant form of urban agriculture that evokes a valuable lesson on timing, allows her to trespass beyond the apparent barrenness of the urban landscape to celebrate an American cityscape of multiple layers of cultural and agricultural complexities. Foraging in the City In Eating Wildly, Chin intimately captures her journey foraging in the New York metropolis; it is a journey like that of many American middle-class urban and suburban professionals whose anxieties over industrial agriculture generates insatiable appetites for heirloom organic foods. Foraging for wild plants enacts an agricultural ethics that, while celebrating food cultivation as a form of environmental stewardship, facilitates direct contacts with the materiality of the urban environment. Writing at a historical juncture where food movements worldwide unanimously shift their focal points from food consumption (“What should we have for dinner?”) to not only food production (“Where will this dinner come from?”) but food production in urban settings, she, like many urban farming practitioners, finds foraging in the urban metropolis a viable tool for challenging the capitalist food regime. Her narrative complicates the apparent simplicity and romanticism displayed in urban foragers’ visions of the city by carefully redefining cities from food deserts of hunger and poverty to cornucopias of cultural and agricultural productivity. The ecocritical possibilities of urban foraging lie in its ability to destabilize normative understandings of the city and tease out the underlying conceptual tensions and cultural stakes of the “city-country” divide. In Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution (2012), journalist Jennifer Cockrall-King contends that “we’ve planned our cities around transportation needs, housing needs, recreational needs, and sanitation needs, all the while hoping that the rural lands around us would continue to produce food …. We are just starting to rethink our cities deliberately with our food needs in mind” (79). Nonetheless, the mainstream contemporary food movement’s celebration of community gardens, rooftop gardens, vertical farming, and urbane foraging as means to mitigate hunger and malnutrition in the urban jungle may appear another beguiling fad of the urban affluent that unabashedly breeds idealism. As Raymond Williams acutely observes in The Country and the City (1975), “a city eats what its country neighbors have grown. It is able to do so by the services it provides, in political authority, law and trade, to those who are in charge of the rural exploitation, with whom, characteristically, it is organically linked in a mutual necessity of profit and power” (50–51). Since the sixteenth century, farming and the production of foods have been associated with the countryside, and are central to the envisioning and dramatization of the city/country socioeconomic dichotomy. Economic interdependencies between rural and urban areas have intensified modern city’s material dependence on rural sectors as suppliers of foods and raw materials, however uneven and nonexclusive the synergies. Urbanization through capitalist economic diversification, as Williams contentiously cautions, exacerbates the distance between urban dwellers and the materiality of the countryside, enacting a tourist appetite for romantic agricultural rurality. The city-versus-country geographical and epistemological distance that Williams interrogates, while estheticizing country living and pastoralizing food production into a mode of play, reinforces the association of modern cities with “food deserts.” The failure to reflect on the mutually constitutive and transformative relations between the city and the country underlying the mainstream contemporary food movement instigates the romantic imagery of urban food practices. Although Williams’ investigation of the symbiotic (or parasitic) urban–rural relations quoted above has long anticipated the danger of configuring issues of urban food insecurity and food insufficiency through fantasizing rural fertility and innocence, it is only recently that activists and scholars have begun to critically reconsider the implications of imagining cities as not merely the loci of malnutrition but vibrant sites of food production. The attempts of urban agriculture advocates, such as Professor of Microbiology and Public Health Dickson D. Despommier, to restore urban productivity through technology and intensive capital investment disclose a revived attention to the materiality of urban agronomics. In The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century (2010), he offers a scientific blueprint for contemporary cities by mimicking the sustenance functions and processes of an ecosystem through hydroponic and aeroponic technologies. Following the steps of this original landmark, Lauren Mandel’s Eat Up: The Inside Scoop on Rooftop Agriculture (2013) similarly contends that the ethical imperative for feeding the urban poor through rooftop gardens rests on innovative models of commercial and technological agriculture. Tracing the histories of urban agriculture to the Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome, she inscribes cities into a politics of cultural and economic restructuring, wherein cities take on farming—the cultural mandate role of rural regions (6–7). Evoking literary critic Leo Marx’s classic “machine in the garden” pastoral trope, urban farming advocates contend that rooftop or skyscraper farming “is not simply ‘a machine in the garden’ nor ‘a garden in the machine’” where agrarian order is either disrupted or programmed by technology (McDonough ix). In maintaining that “the machine is a garden,” urban agriculture advocates dismantle the traditional city-versus-country divide and the designated socioeconomic roles of the city and the country with science, technology, and capital (McDonough ix). In backyard food plots, guerrilla gardens, and urban foraging practices, activists such as Alan Chadwick, Grace Lee Boggs, and Wendy Johnson have identified a mode of urban agriculture that redefines inner cities as a site of food and social justice cultivations. Detroit-based Chinese American civil rights icon Grace Lee Boggs (1915–2015), for instance, recognizes in community gardens the rich agricultural heritage of the United States’ various ethnicities, and its long histories of racial violence and oppression. For Boggs, “[w]e can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously” (Boggs n.p.). Blending people with their cultures and environs, urban agriculture, in addition to offering affordable fresh, healthy nonindustrial produce, facilitates an environmental literacy that nourishes food sovereignty and socioenvironmental justice. Whether through technology, capital, or community programs, urban agriculture redirects our attention to the fertility of urban landscape amidst the raw realities of political regulations, land availability, and air, water, and soil contamination. At a historical intersection which sees over 50 percent of the world’s population residing in urban settlements (United Nations 1), the pertinent question for ecocritics, then, is no longer how humanity can secure the sustainable existence of wilderness, pastoral landscapes, and natural environments of “a less urbanized, more ‘natural’ state of existence” as sites of play and worship, and with what language, form, and imagery (Buell, Imagination 31). Rather, the pressing task is how the mainstream contemporary food movement transforms urban wilderness into sustainable habitats through both producing healthy foods and re-enchanting humans’ relations with the material complexities of urban space. As early as the 1980s and 1990s, ecocritics such as Rachel Stein, T. V. Reed, and Julie Sze have examined how race, class, and gender produce environmental stratification. At the center of this environmental justice movement is the struggle against ghettoization, poisoning, food insecurity, and forms of racialized environmental burdens that have instigated the “urban jungle” and the “urban wilderness” images of the city. And yet, even environmental justice critics and activists who have shifted focus to the uneven distribution of environmental resources and risks tend to essentialize cities as unproductive and infertile sites. Defined negatively in terms of what Lawrence Buell describe as “urban and other severely altered, damaged landscapes” of impurity and insufficiency, they are quick to recognize the structural violence of ecologically-related aggression and violence, especially those experienced in inner cities (Future 88). They overlook the complexities of urban materiality, that is, how matters and ecological processes, while heedlessly resisting human domination, continue to configure urban life. In one of the first ecocritical studies of the urban environment, Michael Bennett interrogates the bourgeois ideologies that dichotomize space into “pastoral gardens” and “urban squalors.” He writes, These sociopolitical developments will not be possible unless concerned environmentalists … contest the very visible anti-urban ideology that permeates our culture (including much of mainstream environmentalism and ecocriticism) and reveal the often invisible social effects of this ideology as it is used to construct and enforce the increasingly fortified boundaries of America’s ghettos. (184) As a form of urban agriculture of the recent “back-to-the-city” phenomenon that exults cities as a new sites for the production of authentic foods, urban foraging unsettles the city–country divide and may be considered an experimental platform for socioenvironmental innovation and intervention. How do Chin’s practices, foraging and eating wildly, participate in urban agriculture and mainstream contemporary food movements’ “assumed the role of cultural and political arbiter of agriculture and value,” and how has this trend assigned “a distinctive value to the urban version [of growing food]” (Ching and Creed 111, 113)? What does it mean to reconnect the dislocated bodies of urbanites with the materiality of urban space through these fashionable wild edible hunts? How do these leisurely foraging strolls in metropolitan centers subvert received perceptions of inner cities’ barrenness and emptiness? Harvesting and preparing food wildly is, in fact, embedded within a cosmopolitan sense of the local environment. Foraging in Chinatown and Beyond A third-generation Chinese American and associate professor of creative nonfiction and journalism at the City University of New York, Chin writes with great feeling of her experiences making sense of the rich cultural and ecological heritage of her immediate urban vicinity. Eating Wildly marks the culmination of her longtime creative endeavor, beautifully weaving her short stories of Asian American intergenerational tensions with her New York Times columns on urban foraging. Her experience gleaning forgotten wild food sources in urban ethnic enclaves parallels her ongoing attempts to understand her Chinese American roots. Drawing on both naturalist science and the traditional ecological knowledge she inherited from her grandparents, she employs familiar tropes and themes of “a wild hunt” that foodies around the globe relied upon while envisioning a cityscapes characterized by agricultural productivity. Chin first participates in the alternative food movement’s ongoing critique of the industrialist food paradigm by presenting urban foraging as the most viable means of securing a healthy, organic diet. In the concluding chapter of her book, “When Food Was Food,” she explains how the act of food consumption has become a nutritional and health precautionary measure against what leading American food journalist and activist Michael Pollan most fittingly calls “edible foodlike substances” (Defense 1): I’d met freegans committed to living off the food grid, foodies and chefs interested in finding wild mushrooms or sweet summer berries …. Nearly everyone I spoke to was suspicious of big agriculture and genetically modified foods. Most were eager to return to the days when food was food, without a long list of additives and preservatives. (215) On gustatory and alimentary levels, the untamable wildness and hence naturalness of “weeds” in urban environments ensure the flavor and quality of the foods urbanites consume through their low food miles (A. Chin 91, 180). On sociopolitical levels, the localness and easy accessibility of these neighborhood plants empower local communities and mobilize grassroots resistance movements against the global food regime. Gathering uncultivated herbs, vegetables, and fruits conventionally known as “unwanted, alien invasives” in urban vicinities features a familiar ethic of the wild employed by organic enthusiasts in their critique of agribusiness’s manipulation of output and productivity (A. Chin 180). Part of the point of working the land, Chin claims, is to “promote access to healthy, sustainable food for everyone—especially within our most disenfranchised neighborhoods” (223). Unlike cheap, colorful, farm products with long shelf-lives that are manufactured by agribusinesses, wild foods provide a readily available medium through which the estranged bodies of urban consumers reconnect directly with seasonal changes to their food sources. Foraging in one’s immediate vicinity, the minimal food mileage reknits the broken link between alienated consumers and a landscape of moral and agronomic purity, alleviating food safety risks generated during the production, manufacturing, and distribution processes of factory farming. As Darrin Nordahl concurs in Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture (2009), urban foraging, as a mode of food production, has been “a cost effective way for individuals and families to put nutritious food on the table, and the ability to harvest public produce presents a great opportunity for those facing hunger or who generally can only afford to eat poorly” (78). Philosophers Peter Singer and Jim Mason similarly argue that scavenging food waste is “the ultimate ethical cheap eats”; they write, “you’re not buying into that whole process of consumption. Even buying organic food involves being part of the consumer economy. Dumpstering really does break the consumer chain” (257, 262). Although Chin’s anti-consumerist critique in Easting Wildly never proceeds to embrace one’s moral duty and political responsibility to wage open battle on world hunger and food injustice through foraging leftover foods from dumpsters, her remark affirms the perpetual nutritional and health appeals of rummaging wild plants. Chin’s passionately-written urban foraging narrative, interestingly, poses more questions about the cultural politics of ethical eating than it initially undertakes to answer, especially when its title, “Eating Wildly,” is taken at face value and accepted as the premise of the book. The numerous field guides on foraging and cooking wild edibles published since Euell Gibbons’s “Stalking the Wild Food” series in 1960s and 1970s demonstrate the ongoing appeal of both the materiality of wildness and the ethical vision of the wilderness’s “nothing-ness” (Chou 163).1 Foragers and skeptics take organic wildness at face value as something radically free of human-instigated influences, celebrating, for instance, what forager Samuel Thayer calls “sustenance directly from the Earth” (2). Complications do not emerge, so much, from urban foragers’ endeavors to determine what constitutes the wild in big cities, or whether the taste of the wild could actually be found in cities, or other ultimately built-up environments. Rather, the main point of contention concerning eating wildly in cities lies in perceptions of wildness as a critical discourse and cultural framework for the active advancement of ethical food production and consumption. In this latest “how to eat” genre, critics such as Julie Guthman, Rachel Slocum, Patricia Allen, Susie O’Brien, and Alison Hope Alkon identify an epidemic of indifference to the workings of race, gender, and class within alternative food movements’ own formulation and negotiation of food insecurity and hunger (Guthman, “Commentary” 261). For them, food activists have been so obsessed with fighting food insecurity issues that they have been unreflective about the white, middle-class positions of their own grounds of inquiry. The preoccupation with the question and problem of privilege leads activists to a fixation on the affordability and accessibility of healthy, wild foods, obscuring the fact that these enthusiasts themselves have also been animated and, hence, hindered “by a set of discourses that derive from whitened cultural histories” (Guthman, “Good Food” 434). In other words, the alternative food movements are overshadowed by a color blindness that invests in the desire to “work the land” and the meanings of “natural” and “organic” foods as universal (Guthman, “Good Food” 435). As I would also add, the mainstream contemporary food movement’s accentuation of food insufficiency and food insecurity as central concerns further reflects an urban sensibility that, while persistently deferring the responsibility of food production and distribution to the countryside, assumes urbanites’ status as passive and victimized recipients in the global food chain. Bringing a much needed awareness to the provisioning of “culturally appropriate” foods, they highlight the urgency of critically considering the urban, middle-class whiteness of the food movement (Slocum 327). Paying attention to cultural practices not only facilitates a more nuanced food movement sensitive to the cultural and ethnic diversity of food and agricultural traditions, but also allowing creative engagements with issues of hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity. Chin’s urban foraging narrative, at a first glance, appears as yet another variation of the nostalgic urban food cult wherein the structural violence of food insecurity and community alliances are overlooked in favor of the rigid epistemological binary between a desolate city of capitalist ecocide and a secluded landscape of authentic delights. Her remark on the disavowed foragers of the New York metropolis, however, suggests otherwise. Toward the end of her journey hunting for wild edibles and for love, she declares, I talked about the hidden foragers—those immigrant grandmotherly types I’d encountered in Fort Greene and Prospect parks practicing the foraging habits of their homelands. They, and we, were engaging in a kind of pre-agricultural endeavor that kept us tied close to the land. It wasn’t such an odd thing in other parts of the world—I knew of Russian, Korean, and French foragers who grew up gathering edibles with their families. (214–15) Coming from a Chinese American family, Chin’s ethnic heritage undermines the stereotyping of urban foraging as a simple reactionary gesture that springs from white middle-class Americans’ self-interested concerns over food insecurity and moral panic over the need to invent viable technologies to feed the world. One is tempted to discount the political strain of Chin’s concluding reflection here as she seems to dwell on feminized and racialized images of foragers via romantic symbols of a nurturing immigrant grandmother or an abundant Mother Earth. The image of immigrant grandmothers immediately reminds her readers of the expression, “just like grandma used to make,” reinforcing, again, the loss of a past of “genuine,” “authentic” nonhuman world. Her conception of foraging as a sustainable but endangered food production method vulnerable to Western influences nostalgically employs the familiar “nature knows best” vocabulary of the alternative food movement. Chin’s comment that “the United States had lost its foraging culture by forcing Native Americans off the land, and food was subsequently taken over by big agribusiness” likewise overlooks the complex histories in which foraging is exorcized, and the ethical, spiritual, and environmental underpinnings of “sacred ecology,” “ecological wisdom,” and other forms of indigenous ecological knowledge (A. Chin 215).2 Yet when stories of immigrant grandmothers are contextualized within larger histories of foraging, Chin’s urban procuring journey brings to the fore a notion of urban foraging anchored not only in non-Western botanic knowledge systems but also the everyday experiences of ethnic Americans. The invocation of dying customs and habits prompts us to reassess urban foragers’ profound sense of nostalgia, such as that conveyed during Chin’s encounters with ginkgoes (7), cloud ear fungus (11–21), and other ingredients of traditional Chinese medicinal value in Chinatown’s street markets and beyond (17). These uncovered scavenging practices debunk the stereotyping of urban foraging as mere unsustainable, quixotic quests of white cultural and political elite. The celebration of traditional ecological knowledge discloses the cultural hybridity of urban foraging practice, redeeming it from what Time magazine designated as one of the trendy “Top 10 Food Trends” (Ozersky). A twist to the popular “how to eat” genre, Chin’s ethnic American food production heritage questions the whiteness and urbanity of contemporary American food epistemology and the preeminence of food and gastronomy as redemptive interventions into food insecurity. Synchronously complementing each other, the multiple bodies of ecological knowledge evoked by Chin in Eating Wildly create possibilities for inhabiting the city through re-enchantment. Like Peterson Field Guides’ naturalist Roger Tory Peterson (1908–96), foraging guru Euell Gibbons (1911–75), and Manhattan celebrity forager “Wildman” Steve Brill, Chin embarks on the natural sciences in orienting herself towards bodily and spiritual reconnection with the environment during her foraging field expeditions. In the chapter “Foraging Eyes: Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca),” for instance, she recalls, The leaves [of motherwort] were shaped like a lion’s tail, and I thought about the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz combing the end of his tail between his paws. I rubbed a leaf between my fingers. The motherwort was less fuzzy than the common mallow and smelled like my grandfather’s desk drawer—a repository for curios and odd mementos: pressed handkerchiefs embroidered with someone else’s initials, buffalo nickels, an old extracted tooth. I’d first learned of Leonurus cardiaca from a Chinese doctor in Brooklyn, who recommended it for uterine issues like hormonal imbalances and spot bleeding. In Old English, wort meant “plant,” and I loved the idea of a mothering plant that could aid my feminine issues and clam my nerves. According to David Hoffmann’s The Herbal Handbook, motherwort was use for menstrual conditions, as a relaxant during menopause, and as a tonic for the heart. Back then, I’d tried the herb in pill form and found it incredibly dry and bitter—I had to drink an entire glass of water to get it down…. But here it was alive and thriving in the middle of downtown Boulder. (100) Entrenched in the Western naturalist tradition, Chin’s field notes and reflections here resemble the many wildlife handbooks that capture animals, plants, and minerals through taxonomic names, field marks, and mimetic illustrations for reliable field identification and investigation, even though these guides might not be directed toward foraging in urban environments per se. Interestingly, her field notes, like the recipes that conclude each chapter of Eating Wildly, constitute the basis of an accurate and, hence, authentic experience of the nonhuman world in which urbanites’ yearning for spiritual resonance is satisfied, despite the capacity of science and scientific realism to verify the revelation or the “truth about nature” has been demonstrated to be a fallacy (Phillips vii). As ecocritic Dana Phillips observes, “[w]e assume that the truth about nature is straightforward. Many of us still believe that ecologists can meet our need for a better understanding of natural processes simply by thinking ‘like a mountain,’ as Aldo Leopold once urged them and all of us to do” (vii). Information and the details of natural science not only provide instructions on species recognition and field experience, but facilitate a genuine and real experience of the nonhuman world that enacts nature writers’ perpetual “ritual invocation of the moment of epiphany” (Phillips 5). With knowledge of a nonhuman world laid out by straight facts and scientific objectivity, her unmediated contact with motherwort through food gathering sustains a moment of revelation in which she rejoices over the presence of wildness in an ultimate human landscape. Rather than modes of simple nostalgic longing, Chinese medicinal heritage and traditional ecological knowledge become portals to a whole new level of the human and nonhuman urban reality from which she was estranged. They enable her to scrutinize and comprehend beyond mere appearance, and to receive ideas of the everyday cityscape, as well as the supposed authenticity, homogeneity, and immutability of the nonhuman nature. Chin’s appreciation of the cross-culturally accepted healing powers of motherwort and urban wild edibles unshackles traditional knowledge from its inherited particularistic, parochial, and insular status to embody cosmopolitan localism. Traditional forms of ecological knowledge and worldviews have routinely been acknowledged as antidotes to crises of Western modernity––to humanity’s alienation from the nonhuman, and from what a great number of American environmental scientists, philosophers and writers would conceptualize as nature’s harmony, equilibrium, and order.3 Chin’s comment on the healing properties of motherwort in women’s health reveals the practical significance of traditional ecological instructions that she is exposed to as a Chinese American urban forager. Although not verified by Western positivist science, this orally-transmitted empirical information and these insights, as knowledge of “a situated process tied to a specific place,” have become disruptive interventions into the mechanisms, reductionism and universalism of Western sciences (Berkes 5). The wildness constituting the foods she foraged in urban environments are reminders of a resilient, untamable nonhuman world. A liberating source of reenchantment, her ethnic heritage unveils a city of cultural and agronomic complexities. From her grandfather, a first-generation Chinese American restaurant worker in Manhattan, she has acquired ethnobotanic lessons on wun yee (cloud ear fungus), dong gu (shiitake mushrooms), chrysanthemum blossoms, red hawthorn berries, and dong quai passed down through the generations in the Chinese American community by word of mouth (17–18). She explains, “I’m not sure how Grandpa knew what he knew––whether his parents had taught him or he’d learned from the cooks at the restaurant” (18). These empirical insights on wild mushroom, herbs, and greens bestowed upon her are, as she repeatedly claims, all about “timing” (A. Chin 9, 139, 156, 196, 224, 229), that is, as the subtitle of her nature writing, Eating Wildly, indicates, rummaging and “foraging for life, love and the perfect meal” at the “right” time and right place (139). Just as Chin later learns to forage for garlic mustard by distinguishing it from other, poisonous grasses, by recognizing it “in all of its different stages” (196), “history, shape, and forms” (84), a forager attentive to timing demands the building of the “little knowledge” and “right perspective” of seeing the nonhuman in its multiple temporalities and spatialities (196). Procuring garlic mustard in an urban wilderness at the right moment requires both an understanding of the city as well as comprehensive knowledge of garlic mustard’s taxonomy, behavior patterns, and interactions with other aspects of the human and nonhuman world across historic and geologic time. It also demands familiarity with the songs, legends, beliefs, practices, and politics that continue to shape, and be shaped by, the wild garlic mustard for cultivation and harvest. By knowledge of wild edibles, and by her Chinese American heritage, enables foragers, like Chin, to move beyond the appearance of a barren and lifeless urban environment as conceptualized by Western mechanistic science. Her celebration of timing parallels the recent materialist approach of ecocriticism toward “a story-laden mode of reenchantment” where the processes of interaction and becoming are reclaimed (Cohen x). As ecocritics Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann elucidate in their introduction to Material Ecocriticism (2014), “[t]his world … is far from being a ‘pure exterior’ … and it is also far from being ‘pure.’ It is filled instead with intermingling agencies and forces that persist and change over eons, producing new forms, bodies, and natures” (1). Enchanted by her discovery of a mulberry tree standing in a familiar passageway, Chin is struck by a dawning realization that her search for reconciliation with her divorced mother, and for a husband in her late thirties, are constitutive of her urban foraging journey. As she indicates, “I had started to understand that everything in nature was cyclical, everything interrelated. And the timing of things was key …. Instead of wishing for something or someone to be there that wasn’t, I could now see clearly before me what was” (224–25); “everything came together––under the right timing, in balance with nature” (229). Foraging according to traditional ecological practices and worldview leads Chin to a temporal sense of the world wherein life, love, and urban wild edibles are all part of a cumulative process of becoming. Recognizing the interrelatedness of the human and nonhuman natures also registers an ethics of relations in which human and nonhuman nature are constantly situated within a larger moral and ethical context in a state of nature–culture balance. In this sense, her comment on the interrelatedness of the human and nonhuman world manifests Chinese or Taoist principles of “nature/Nature,” or tzu-jan. Ethicist Wei-Ming Tu writes of the idea of tzu-jan, or literally “self-so-ness,” “[t]he idea of an all-enfolding harmony involves two interrelated meanings. It means that nature is all-inclusive, the spontaneously self-generating life process which excludes nothing” (71). Tzu-jan implies that “internal resonance underlies the order of things in the universe” and that despite conflict and tension, “the deep structure of nature is always tranquil” (Tu 71). The interconnectedness of nature prompts her to see the wild edibles and the nonhuman urban environment into a state of being where the human and the nonhuman each participate in ongoing interactions of becoming. In doing so, her search for wild edibles participates in what Robert Ji-Song Ku suggests is the “politics of the dubious,” which undermines ethnic gastronomic authenticity as an invention that “rel[ies] on transcendental means to answer questions posed by a reality deemed untidy and undesirable” (4). Chin’s urban foraging journey shares many American nature writers’ and environmentalists’ faith in, and fancy for, vernacular forms of knowledge in redressing the epistemological effects of Western modernity. Embedded within Chin’s celebration of Chinese American heritage is a situated process of knowledge production tied to local culture and grounded in empirical understandings of nonhuman nature. Like them, local, traditional knowledge, for Chin, serves to “solve problems of human survival, such as food production, communication, healing, building and mobility” or “constitute social identities by providing reflective resources to assess reality and other kinds of knowledge” (Renn 375). When the situatedness of traditional ecological knowledge comes to entail a sense of localness and intimacy, these geographically or culturally specific bodies of knowledge also emerge as powerful tools for re-enchantment and reconnection. As Dana Phillips observes, American nature writers and environmental activists have been “trying to discover an ethnological solution to the problem of our alleged alienation from the natural world” by enshrining indigenous people’s union with nature (222–23). In sprawling metropolises where wild edibles become objects of the gaze, ethnic medical and gastronomic traditions have become sources of liberation and hope. For Chin, however, the conceptual and cultural efficacy of local, community-based knowledge lies as much in the offering of globally applicable and relevant solutions as in the interrogation of the expected roles and boundaries of the local. The fact that motherwort, cloud ear fungus, and other place-based ethnic ecological knowledge transgress cultural borders illustrates what Fikret Berkes writes in Sacred Ecology as the “complementarity of traditional and Western knowledge at a practical level,” and, most significantly, “the need for conceptual pluralism” (145). Ethnic cultures and practices contribute to Western modernity particularly at the level of the worldview, where locally-developed or locally-relevant traditional beliefs and practices provide not only a reflexive space but the vocabulary, grammar, and framework for what he calls “the discussion of ecological ethics and … the sacred” (Berkes xviii). Chin’s dependence on both premodern Chinese and contemporary Western insights on foraging generates pertinent questions about environmentalists’ ethical-political investments in ethnoscience and local, empirical practices, and the functionality of the rural and the traditional in the configuration of cities as environments of agricultural productivity. Foraging in the city, Chin embarks on a food production practice that continues to draw from ethnic ecological thoughts. By so doing, her journey displays an urgency to salvage ethnic knowledge from being estheticized objects of gaze to become an everyday practice. Although the intersectionality of race, gender, class, and the environment never occupies the center of Chin’s imagining of the city, she has problematized the perceived roles of local, ethnic practices, complicating their supposed authenticity and exoticism. Reframing traditional ecological knowledge within a larger cross-culture framework, she propels a nonhuman urban nature of transcultural interactive relations. Foraging for a New American Cityscape An ancient but evergreen mode of food production imbued with redemptive political and ethnical imaginings, Chin’s urban foraging practice is embedded within an ethnic ecological conception of the city, where the everyday practices of eating and walking constitute the production of the city as a site of material dynamics and agricultural possibilities. Interestingly, when contextualized within a larger Asian American literary framework, her urban foraging journey also registers the familiar plot of an Asian American bildungsroman where the arts of gastronomy and flânerie are exhaustively enacted as mediating devices that help negotiate the young protagonist’s sense of belonging with his/her multiple cultural identities. In fact, one of the most mesmerizing and yet disturbing appeals of Eating Wildly is perhaps Chin’s scattered childhood memories at her immigrant grandparents’ clustered kitchen in Flushing, Queens, purchasing, cooking, and eating foreign foods during her divorced mother’s absence. She recalls these early gastronomic adventures formative to her urban foraging techniques and cultural identity, “[m]embers of my family claim that I ate anything my grandfather fed me, including fish eyeballs, which I later vehemently denied, although I do have a vague memory of eating something round and gelatinous, with a texture like vanilla pudding” (13); “I’d plop myself down at the kitchen table where my grandfather … would share his meals with me: a slab of perfectly seared liver just out of the pan, or sizzling flash-fried bok choy with shiitakes” (13). Highlighting memories of the culinary surprises of her grandfather, whose work at “various Manhattan restaurants” have actually helped him develop a palate “so diversified that he could make almost anything well” rather than just outlandish Chinese dishes, Chin in various anecdotes reduces Asian foodways, everyday practices, cultural traditions into pleasure objects for both bourgeois and white consumption (12). Despite ethnic gastronomy eventually giving rise to a transcultural articulation of food practices, foraging in the urban enclaves, she performs the role of a cultural tour guide who makes of wild (ethnic) culinary ingredients a new urban spectacle. Through graphic visual and acoustic imagery, her ceremonious and deliberate dramatization of ethnic food ingredients reproduces a quintessentially Asian American mother–daughter conflict storyline in which the conventional trope of ethnic foodways is ritually displayed as racial markers of the unassimilable, “invasive weeds” and immigrants, whose difference/Otherness the American-born generations simultaneously resist and embrace in subject formation (A. Chin 91, 180). Chin’s quest for a wholesome food and selfhood perpetuates the legacies of Jade Snow Wong’s Fifth Chinese Daughter (1950), Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989), Frank Chin’s Donald Duk (1991), Lan Cao’s Monkey Bridge (1997) and other Asian American coming-of-age novels where ethnic foods and foodways are persistently invoked as both the medium and product of identity formation. Foods, as Shirley Geok-lin Lim observes, “serve as crucial markers for place and community, not just of a people but of a territorialized nation” (298); and within a larger Asian American literary context, alimentary images have come to symbolize what Sau-ling Cynthia Wong remarks as “all the hardships, deprivations, restrictions, disenfranchisements, and dislocations that Asian Americans have collectively suffered as immigrants and minorities in a white-dominated country” (20). The recurrence of gastronomy in Asian American literature such as Eating Wildly, indeed, testifies to the centrality of food in reconfiguring Asian American identity, citizenship, and belonging. They act as haunting reminders of the entrenched political institutions and racist structures that continue to reinstantiate and reinscribe Asian Americans into the category of an ethnic group that is culturally—if not genetically—programmed to cook and eat tasty foods. The various incidences of self-Orientalization in Chin’s narrative inform the genre of “food pornography” (F. Chin 3). It is a genre in which ethnic authors eschew a narrative of assimilation through domesticating their Otherness and making “a living by exploiting the ‘exotic’ aspects of one’s ethnic foodways” (Wong 55). The unfading interest in food pornography among white readers conceals not only the embedded structure of racism that commodifies ethnic foodways, but also the status of food as “a critical medium for compliance with and resistance to Americanization, a means for enacting the ambiguities of an Asian-ethnic American identity that is already in a constant state of flux” (Ho 3). More importantly, however, Chin’s urban food foraging journey redirects critical attention that reads the exoticization of ethnic foods as a gateway to understanding ethnic subjectivity and identity politics to what Joni Adamson notes is a scholarship that “too often failed to account for the diversity of non-Western cultures and ecological lifeways both inside and outside U.S. borders” (xiv). To ascribe Eating Wildly to the realm of ethnic food literature is to overlook the dynamics of ethnic American ecological knowledge and ethnic Americans’ experience of the human and nonhuman world. The urban excursions which Chin undertakes in search of “life, love and the perfect meal” (Eating Wildly subtitle) evoke the popular trope of ethnic foodways, but her urban foraging strolls are indicative of her role as a naturalist-flâneur, who, instead of drifting through urban arcades seeking and absorbing the meaning of modernity, goes, literally, in the words of Walter Benjamin, “botanizing on the asphalt” (36). Chin writes, I am walking along a secluded, wooded path in a park in Brooklyn—my favorite place to forage for wild edibles in the city. My backpack is filled with plastic bags, a worn field edition of Euell Gibbons’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and a box cutter that doubles as a knife. The wood mulch and dirt are damp beneath my sneakers as I make the slow climb up toward my destination. Down below, cyclists and joggers are making their way along the road that loops through the park, and I can hear the resounding clomp of a horse along the bridle path. In the height of early autumn, everything below is obscured by a rich tangle of leaves just starting to turn reddish gold in the morning light. (3) At once a flâneur and a naturalist, Chin’s dual ecological identities subvert the white gaze of the flâneur, who, by distancing himself from the mindless urban crowds, produces a voyeuristic, interpersonal knowledge of the metropolis that celebrates the restlessness, turbulence, and ephemerality of modern urban living. Strolling in the promenade like a Parisian flâneur, she is a solitary (ethno-)botanist who, while observing, identifying, and collecting wild ingredients, reconfigures cities as untamable wild landscapes of agronomic abundance. She claims rights to the city, enjoying a flâneur’s spatial mobility; but, equipped with both Western and non-Western environmental bodies of knowledge, she is able to cross the spatial boundary of modern cities that captures cities as barren and controlled landscapes of human engineering, to experience the metropolis as a biologically-diverse and environmentally-complex habitat of height, depth, and breadth. Through a flâneur-naturalist’s leisurely stroll, Chin’s disengagement from the roaming crowd generates a poetic distance that enables her to produce a panoramic knowledge of the city characterized by ephemerality, although this “elusive[ness],” embodied as much by the search as by the object of the search, suggests a nonhuman world of its own self-generating patterings (7). Taking on urban foraging as a mythic quest, she writes, “[y]ou may think you know what you want, and expend a lot of energy and dogged determination making lists and plans for obtaining it … only to find it shimmering elsewhere, like a golden chalice, just out of reach” (7). Foraging in the city, Chin re-enchants and re-inhabits the city by recovering her ethnic traditions and integrating ethnic and Western ecological knowledge. As Michael Pollan rightly argues, “what I was really after in taking up hunting and gathering: to see what it’d be like to prepare and eat a meal in full consciousness of what was involved … to look as far into the food chains that support us as I could look, and recover the fundamental biological realities that the complexities of modern industrialized eating keep from our view” (Omnivore 281). A native New Yorker and a Chinese American writer, Chin responds movingly to alternative food movements’ concerns over food production. For her, urban foraging is a practice through which the estranged bodies of modern consumers are reconnected to the materiality of the nonhuman world, even though this nonhuman nature had oftentimes been culturally transfigured and reinvented by science, technology, and the market economy. Footnotes 1 See Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop (1964), Stalking the Healthful Herbs (1966), Stalking the Good Life (1966), and Stalking the Faraway Places (1973). 2 See, for instance, the notion of “sacred ecology” in David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson’s Wisdom of the Elders: Sacred Native Stories of Nature (1992) and Fikret Berkes’s Sacred Ecology (2008), and the notion of “ecological wisdom” in J. Baird Callicott’s In Defense of the Land Ethic (1989). 3 The view of the natural world as “balance,” “harmony,” and “order” was first advanced by American ecologists such as Frederic Clements’s notion of vegetation succession and Eugene Odum’s ecosystem biology in the first half of the twenty-first century. These scientific theories was popularized by environmental historians such as Donald Worster, deep ecologists such as J. Baird Callicott, and others after the 1960s as a utopian worldview corrective to the disenchanted mechanistic reductionism of Western sciences. For critique of this obsession with ecological harmony, equilibrium and order, see most notably Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature (1990), Daniel B. Botkin’s Discordant Harmonies (1990), and Dana Phillips’s The Truth of Ecology (2003), pp. 42–51. Works Cited Adamson Joni. Foreword. Asian American Literature and the Environment . Ed. Fitzsimmons Lorna et al. Routledge , 2015 . xiii – xvii . Benjamin Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism . Trans. Zorn Harry . New Left Books , 1973 . Bennett Michael. “Manufacturing the Ghetto: Anti-urbanism and the Spatialization of Race.” The Nature of Cities: Ecocriticism and Urban Environments . Ed. Bennett Michael , Teague David W. . U of Arizona P , 1999 . 169 – 88 . Bennett Michael , Teague David W. , ed. The Nature of Cities: Ecocriticism and Urban Environments . U of Arizona P , 1999 . Berkes Fikret. Sacred Ecology . 3rd ed . Routledge , 2012 . Boggs Grace Lee. “Seeds of Change.” Bill Moyers Journal. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service, 15 June 2007 . Buell Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture . Harvard UP , 1995 . Buell Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination . Blackwell , 2005 . Callicott J. Baird , Ames Roger T. , ed. Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy . State U of New York P , 1989 . Print. Chin Ava. Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal . Simon & Schuster , 2014 . Chin Frank. The Chinaman Pacific & Frisco R.R. Co.: Short Stories . Coffee House P , 1988 . Ching Barbara , Gerald Creed. “Eaten Up: Urban Foraging and Rural Identity.” Studies in Urbanormativity: Rural Community in Urban Society . Ed. Fulkerson Gregory M. , Thomas Alexander R. . Lexington Books , 2014 . 111 – 27 . Chou Shiuhhuah Serena. “Pruning the Past, Shaping the Future: David Mas Masumoto and Organic Nothingness.” MELUS 34 , no. 2 ( 2009) : 157 – 74 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Cockrall-King Jennifer. Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution . Prometheus Books , 2012 . Cohen Jeffrey Jerome. “Foreword: Storied Matter.” Material Ecocriticism . Ed. Iovino Serenella , Oppermann Serpil . Indiana UP , 2014 . ix – xii . Fitzsimmons Lorna , Chae Youngsuk , Adams Bella , ed. Asian American Literature and the Environment . Routledge , 2015 . Fulkerson Gregory M. , Thomas Alexander R. ed. Studies in Urbanormativity: Rural Community in Urban Society . Lexington Books , 2014 . Guthman Julie. “Bringing Good Food to Others: Investigating the Subjects of Alternative Food Practice.” Cultural Geographies 15 , no. 4 ( 2008) : 431 – 47 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Guthman Julie . “Commentary on Teaching Food: Why I Am Fed Up with Michael Pollan et al.” Agriculture and Human Value 24 , no. 2 ( 2007) : 261 – 64 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Ho Jennifer Ann. Consumption and Identity in Asian American Coming-of-Age Novels . Routledge , 2012 . Iovino Serenella , Oppermann Serpil . “Introduction: Stories Come to Matter.” Material Ecocriticism. Ed. Iovino Serenella , Oppermann Serpil . Indiana UP , 2014 . 1 – 17 . Iovino Serenella , Oppermann Serpil , ed. Material Ecocriticism. Indiana UP , 2014 . Ku Robert Ji-Song. Dubious Gastronomy: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the USA . U of Hawai‘i P , 2014 . Lim Shirley Geok-lin. “Identifying Foods, Identifying Selves.” Massachusetts Review 45 , no. 3 ( 2004) : 297 – 305 . McDonough William. Foreword. Second Nature Urban Agriculture: Designing Productive Cities . Ed. Viljoen André , Bohn Katrin . Routledge , 2014 . Nordahl Darrin. Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture . Island P , 2009 . Ozersky Josh. “Top 10 Food Trends.” Time. Time Inc., 7 Dec. 2011 . Phillips Dana. The Truth of Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature in America . Oxford UP , 2003 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pollan Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto . Penguin P , 2008 . Pollan Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals . Penguin P , 2006 . Renn Jürgen , ed. The Globalization of Knowledge in History . vol. 1 . Edition Open Access , 2012 . Renn Jürgen. “Survey: The Place of Local Knowledge in the Global Community.” The Globalization of Knowledge in History , vol. 1 . Ed. Renn Jürgen . Edition Open Access , 2012 . 369 – 97 . Singer Peter , Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter . Rodale , 2006 . Slocum Rachel. “Anti-racist Practice and the Work of Community Food Organizations.” Antipode 38 , no. 2 ( 2006) : 327 – 49 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Thayer Samuel. The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants . Forager’s Harvest P , 2006 . Tu Wei-Ming. “The Continuity of Being: Chinese Visions of Nature.” Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought . Ed. Baird Callicott J. , Ames Roger T. . State U of New York P , 1989 . 67 – 78 . United Nations . Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, Highlights . United Nations , 2014 . Viljoen André , Katrin Bohn , ed. Second Nature Urban Agriculture: Designing Productive Cities . Routledge , 2014 . Williams Raymond. The Country and the City . Oxford UP , 1974 . Wong Sau-ling Cynthia. Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance . Princeton UP , 1993 . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and EnvironmentOxford University Press

Published: Apr 11, 2018

There are no references for this article.

You’re reading a free preview. Subscribe to read the entire article.


DeepDyve is your
personal research library

It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.

Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.

All for just $49/month

Explore the DeepDyve Library

Search

Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly

Organize

Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.

Access

Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.

Your journals are on DeepDyve

Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.

All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.

See the journals in your area

DeepDyve

Freelancer

DeepDyve

Pro

Price

FREE

$49/month
$360/year

Save searches from
Google Scholar,
PubMed

Create lists to
organize your research

Export lists, citations

Read DeepDyve articles

Abstract access only

Unlimited access to over
18 million full-text articles

Print

20 pages / month

PDF Discount

20% off