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Top San Francisco Bay Restaurants Serving 'Weeds' All Next Week

BERKELEY - UC Berkeley professors who advocate "urban foraging" -- reclaiming edible plants that otherwise go to waste in backyards, parks, urban farms, and even on city sidewalks -- have organized a Wild Food Week April 4-10, including a guided hike in the Berkeley hills and events at trend-setting Bay Area restaurants.

The weeklong celebration of food that is sustainable, affordable, ubiquitous, and delicious -- if unfamiliar to many Americans -- is part of the Berkeley Open Source Food project in partnership with local organic farmers, produce suppliers, and restaurants on both sides of the San Francisco Bay, including Berkeley's celebrated Chez Panisse.

"Many plants called 'weeds' are actually delicious, healthful foods that have been part of our diet for millennia. It's time we reclaimed them," said Dr. Philip Stark, chair of UC Berkeley's statistics department, for whom urban foraging is a personal passion and a scientific pursuit.

"By some estimates, up to 40% of edible plants on farms are watered, fertilized, harvested, and then not eaten," Prof. Stark added. "Edible plants in city environments, such as dandelion, chickweed, and oxalis are generally overlooked. A little information could improve nutrition for a lot of people, especially in those in underserved urban areas called 'food deserts.'"

Stark and two other Berkeley faculty, Kristen Rasmussen (a nutritionist) and Tom Carlson (an ethnobotanist) have teamed up to restore these traditional, abundant, delicious, low-impact foods to our diets, to reduce waste, increase farm production, and improve public health.

In addition to Chez Panisse, participating restaurants include The Perennial -- devoted to aquaponics, carbon farming and perennial grains -- which will be opening soon in San Francisco's Mid-Market neighborhood. Two other Berkeley restaurants, Mission:Heirloom, a new restaurant devoted to grain-free "head-to-tail" goodness, and Cesar, an upscale tapas bar, are also participating.

"Too often, the word 'weed' is just a synonym for food waste," Prof. Rasmussen said. "We're wasting resources and straining an overstretched environment for no reason except in-built cultural prejudices we need to lose."

The week will kick off with a three-mile guided walk on Saturday, April 4, from Codornices Park, near the UC Berkeley campus, up to Grizzly Peak Blvd and back again. The walk, led by Stark, Rasmussen, and Carlson, is designed to open participants' eyes to the sheer wealth of edible plants under their noses.

Restaurateur Anthony Myint of Mission Chinese, Commonwealth, The Perennial, and Zero Foodprint, said today,"It's really exciting to work with and learn about new, native, nutritious, and sustainable ingredients.

We're glad to be part of an effort to popularize foods that are delicious and readily available all around us because it reminds us that 'eating is an agricultural act' (as Wendell Berry first said). Eating from the whole farm is an extension of the whole animal movement and the farm to table movement."

Among the project's partner organizations are Capay Valley Farm Store, F.E.E.D. Sonoma, Good Eggs, Green String Farm, The Living Wild Project, and Say Hay Farms. Wild Food Week will also feature the debut of a foraging field guide called The Bay Area's Baker's Dozen Wild Greens.

For more details on Wild Food Week and the Berkeley Open Source Food project, see forage.berkeley.edu/wildFoodWeek2015-4-4.htm.

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