The Misgivings of the Greatest Wild Chef

Food and memoir are a perfect pairing for my artisnal hunger. I'm still foraging my way through the multi-course victuals found in Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. I was intrigued by the musings of one of the greatest essayists of our time as he journeyed the Appalachian Trail beside famed wild food enthusiast and Quaker, Euell Gibbons. Among the delectables, John McPhee records the misgivings of the famed writer and naturalist-chef genitor:

He sent wild food to Pennsylvania State University for analysis of its nutritional values. He read The Journals of Lewis and Clark, The Journal of George Vancouver, and observations of Captain John Smith on wild food, and the work of other early observers. He read ethno-botanies of the Iroquois, the Abakni, the Menomini, the Cherokeee, and other Indian tribes. Then, as he wrote, he included his own experiences with the plant he was discussing, gracefully and relevantly weaving his autobiography into his work. When Stalking the Wild Asparagus was published, it quickly established him as the master of his field - which shook him up to no end ...

Earlier in the article, McPhee wrote:

... even with regard to his wild-food writing, his mind was forever swaying on a shaky fence bectween confidence and fear. He went on to say candidly that this sort of vacillation was characteristic of him generally ... He said he had been haunted for as long as he could remember by a sense of fraudulence, and thought that he had created failure for himself time after time in hopeless servitude to this ghost. It had been all he could do to weather the success of his published books, even though he had also been haunted for years by a desire to find himself as a writer.

Euell Gibbons: Man is a Part of the Total Ecology

I relish food writing; almost as much as I savor the act of eating itself. I own several volumes of gustative essays, among them Secret Ingredients, The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink edited by David Remnick which includes the conversant, creative non-fiction writer John McPhee reflecting on a weekend spent with famed forager Euell Gibbons, who stated:

I don't want to destroy; I want to play the part I am supposed to play in relation to plants. I come to a persimmon tree and the tree is growing something sweet, so I'll eat it and scatter the seed. When I do that, I'm carrying out the role I'm supposed to be carrying out. Nature has many, many balances, and we have to find a balance that includes man. If man accepts that he has to be a part of the balance, he must reflect the idea of the conquest of nature. Whenever I read that phrase 'conquest of nature,' I feel a little depressed. Man is a part of the total ecology. He has a role to play, and he can't play it if he doesn't know what it is - or if he thinks that he is conquering something.'