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The Day We Ate Grass

Malki Lowinger

Even if you never need to dig around in a forest to find something to eat for dinner, or figure out how to start a fire without matches, foraging is a useful skill to have. It’s also a great way for the family to spend a Sunday afternoon, says “Yossi the Forager,” who has a knack for uncovering the unexpected edible delights that Hashem has planted in His world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

man in forestI had imagined that Yossi would show up for our field trip dressed in army fatigues and a safari hat, so when he arrives at the park’s entrance I’m disappointed. He is dressed in a sport coat, slacks, and a white shirt, looking like he just finished teaching at Magen David Yeshivah, which in fact he did. It’s only when we begin chatting that I notice a rather odd behavior pattern. Yossi doesn’t look at me during our conversation. Instead, he is looking down at the ground.

Shy? Intimidated? Hardly. “Hey!” he suddenly yelps. He crouches down to the asphalt, picking between the cracks in the pavement with his bare hands. I look around nervously, hoping no one is watching, but Yossi is oblivious to his surroundings. “Look what I found!” he remarks, triumphantly lifting a fistful of grass. “And we’re not even inside the park yet.”

What looks to me like a plain old weed is actually something called plantain. If you remove the fuzzy top of the grass and hold it in your palm, you will find tiny miniscule black seeds scattered in the chaff. Yossi holds up one of the seeds and recites the brachah, borei pri ha’adamah. Then he pops the seed into his mouth. “Here!” he says, offering me a seed. “Try it!”

This is one of those awkward moments when I don’t want to insult Yossi, but there is no way I’m going to munch on the seed of a weed. So I mumble something about having just eaten lunch (a silly excuse if there ever was one) and tell him, “Maybe later.”

But it turns out that plantain has other essential qualities. Yossi chews on a plantain leaf, then spits it out and rubs it on his skin. He says the resulting mush is extremely effective as a salve to soothe mosquito bites and minor scrapes and bruises. “It’s better than calamine lotion,” he tells me. I’m finally beginning to get it. To me, it’s grass. To Yossi, it’s opportunity. I have been formally introduced to the world of foraging. There’s no turning back now.

Technically, the word “foraging” refers to searching for food in the wilderness, and it’s usually applicable to members of the animal kingdom. Perhaps because of the burgeoning “green” movement, foraging has become “hip.” Wildman Steve apparently has been forgiven for his sin and is now conducting foraging tours of Central Park on a regular basis. Similarly Yossi leads families and groups in what he calls “frum foraging” adventures. “To me,” says Yossi, “grass and trees are a whole world!”


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