Foraging, with a little help from my messy-eating immigrant friends
When walking in autumn or winter in the streets in Chinese cities, you will hear a satisfying sound of caramelized sand rhythmically rubbing the metal wok along with the sensation of nutty fragrances and warm air hitting your face. Street vendors roasting chestnuts are a common sight in China. In London, where I live now, street chestnuts are not as commonly seen, heard or smelt as they are back home in Shanghai. In fact, any food-making sound or smell is rare on the streets of London (with the exception of fried chicken), but there are more chestnut trees in the cities here.
During my walks around London, I would often see chestnuts on the ground, or, rather, what was leftover, because someone had arrived before me. Foraging is not easy. You need to be at the right place, at the right time.
One mid-October day, it happened to be the right time to be in Wanstead Park in east London. Although it wasn’t quite right at first. It was a weekend afternoon and some more diligent foragers had arrived before me, so I was again facing just the leftovers. As I was about to lose patience, I felt small drops falling. I began to dread getting wet, suspecting that it had started raining.
But it was not raining. It was bits of chestnut and shell falling. A group of parakeets were enjoying a feast above me. They sang as they ate. They ate as they spat. They fiercely ate and spat as they unintentionally shook chestnuts off the tree. There I am, before anyone else, right under the tree, at the moment of fresh chestnuts falling. When you find the right foraging teammate, you arrive at the right time-space.
Like me, parakeets are not native to the UK. Like parakeets, Chinese people are not liked for our food habits, or when we talk loudly in public. Meanwhile, both parakeets and Chinese are among the fastest growing immigrant populations in the UK. Teaming up with fellow non-human immigrants helped me find what to me is a taste of home.
Author bio: Xuemeng Wang is an ‘in-between’ researcher, transiting from MA to PhD, from human urban studies to animal urban studies. She likes the beauty in the ‘ugly’ animals.