Diego believes that the best food is not found in the supermarket but all around us - you might see a weed, but he sees a delicious ingredient.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 19:30

“Modern society relies too heavily on supermarkets. We will find ourselves in real trouble. We need to adapt to the environment that we are surrounding ourselves with.”

These are the words of Diego Bonetto, a keen naturalist and forager.

He immigrated to Australia from his native Italy twenty years ago. 

“I grew up on a farm foraging so going round and collecting wild plants has always been part of my life," he said.

“The produce in the supermarket is very different; it’s kind of plastic food. The flavours that you get from wild plants are different from whatever you can buy."

“When I tell people I’m foraging the first response is ‘are you sure what you’re doing? What if you get sick?”

Aaron Teece is one of the chefs that Mr Bonetto works with, working to introduce foraged foods into menus.

“Diego loves his weeds," Mr Teece said.

"He is one of those people who actually collects them from the wild and plants them in his garden. His next door neighbours are probably doing the exact opposite.

“I like using foraged ingredients in the cooking we have here, because it allows us to keep up with the seasons. With the majority of the large supermarkets, you’re eating the same produce throughout the year.

“I don’t think people have any idea how much food, and the abundance of it, that is right outside their doorstep”.

Mr Bonetto runs urban foraging workshops in and around Sydney, teaching locals to pay more attention to the wildlife around them.

“There is a clear need for more information,” he said.

“The skill set that I had from growing up in a farm was actually quite enviable knowledge that people wanted to access.”

Florent Meredith, a plant ecologist from UNSW, shares his enthusiasm for local flora, but has some reservations.

“Part of me is really excited that people are getting interested in foraging in an urban environment,” she said.

“Learning the art of foraging in a day from someone who is trying to promote this aspect of living in an urban environment, it is a little bit dangerous.

"I think it takes maybe a lifetime of experience to be able to pick the good plants from the bad. To think that people would take a short workshop or a series of short workshops, and think that they would be able to go out in to the urban wild and feed themselves; that’s scary to me.”

Ms Meredith agrees that one of Bonetto’s rules is of the utmost importance; leave anything alone if you’re not sure exactly what it is.

"The biggest risk in foraging is lack of knowledge,” she said.