Last spring the English countryside became Fergus Drennan’s pantry. No farming, no hunting—just gathering. He drinks water from a natural spring, retrieves sea salt from Herne Bay, and even eats roadkill. To challenge himself and encourage others to eat more wild foods, this 36-year-old chef vowed that for a year he would live solely off foods he could find in the natural areas near his home near Canterbury. Drennan is quick to laugh at his failed acorn breads but serious about sticking to his foraged feasts. Audubon recently caught up with a rapidly thinning Fergus to see how he’s holding up.—Melissa Mahony
Audubon: What inspired you to forage for a year?
Drennan: There’s a hidden price of food. It’s petroleum—plastics, packaging, and food miles. In my country we waste about 30 percent of our food. I’m drawing attention to these issues, but instead of banging a drum and making an angry noise, I’m doing it in a fun, creative way.
Q: What’s currently in season in Kent?
A: Wild garlic, seakale, dulse seaweed. St. George’s mushrooms and Japanese knotweed are rapidly going out of season. I’ve been cooking knotweed with duck and making it into crumble desserts and pies. It’s good, versatile stuff.
Q: The best and worst thing about foraging?
A: The number one thing is it gives you time to slow down and reflect. The worst is getting cold, getting caught out in the rain, particularly when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.
Q: Do you think you’ll last the entire year?
A: I tried for three months in 1995 but only lasted two weeks. Now I have the knowledge to survive on wild food. The real challenge is coming up with delicious dishes every day. As long as I’ve got my health and I can physically get out there and forage, everything is going to be fine. I am losing quite a lot of weight, which is a slight concern. At first I lost 14 pounds in 24 days, but I’ve leveled out now.
Q: What are some of the more fatty meats that you find?
A: I do eat roadkill—that can be quite fatty, if you find a good female pheasant. But most of the meat I’m finding is lean. I have also eaten seagull, hedgehog, squirrel, and rabbit roadkill.
Q: You hate being called the “Roadkill Chef.” Why?
A: It’s a brutal term. It’s also not a large part of my diet, only five percent or so.
Q: Is there a non-foraged food that you miss the most?
A: Coffee. My replacements are roasted nuts and seeds and buckthorn juice, which is pretty potent stuff.
Q: Do you think more people should try foraging?
A: An international wild food day would be wonderful, when everyone tries wild food, keeping in mind the insect species that also depend on such plants. It’d be an education in the effort that goes into producing it and in learning to appreciate what’s around you.
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