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Arts & Culture

In ‘Eating Wildly,’ Ava Chin learns life lessons through foraging

Memoirist and cook learns to see only what’s in front of her

Photo: Photo of Ava Chin by Owen Brunette, License: N/A

Photo of Ava Chin by Owen Brunette

Photo: , License: N/A

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And then there’s the lesson that is Chin’s holy grail. It’s the one she learns while on a desperate, city-wide search for mulberries so she can file her New York Times “Urban Forager” column by deadline (as it turns out, a tree heavy with fruit is just outside her own bedroom window), a lesson that is reinforced as she hunts for morels with her foraging partner and – spoiler alert – future husband, Owen: Those things for which we search so single-mindedly are often right in front of us, and even when they’re not, may reveal something unexpected that is even better.

Foraging, then, is the perfect pastime for Chin, and, it turns out, the perfect metaphor for her memoir. In the process of honing her skills of identification, sharpening her vision and attuning herself to the land and its constant changes, Chin learns to let go of who she wants her mother and father to be, how she’d like to control her own life and how to allow life’s natural passages – including the deaths of her beloved grandparents – to occur, not without mourning, but without resistance.

These lessons are excellent reminders for anyone and, on their own, make the book worth reading. But then there are the recipes and foraging tips integrated into each chapter, and these make for a pleasant bonus. Chin makes the reader believe that foraging is an activity that is both accessible and rewarding, even in a seemingly hostile landscape like New York City. At the end of the book, we’re cheering for the author, who is the underdog in a cooking contest she really wants to win, and we celebrate with her when she takes home top prize. It seems a just recognition, not only for her award-winning tart, but also for the struggles she has endured to be able to write this lovely book.

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