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Off of the Vine: Dirt Don't Hurt

Forage for food, save money

 by Benjamin Horowitz
 published on Thursday, March 9, 2006

<em>Photo courtesy of KRT wire</em><br>
Foraging for food like berries and nuts can save you money on your grocery bill. But don't spend it on beer -- that defeats the healthy purpose. /issues/arts/696150
Photo courtesy of KRT wire
Foraging for food like berries and nuts can save you money on your grocery bill. But don't spend it on beer -- that defeats the healthy purpose.
 

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We've all heard the jokes about students subsisting on day-old pizza and beer. But searching for a club meeting that is serving free pizza is nothing compared to the foraging done by some Valley residents.

Matt LeShure, 26, who moved to Prescott from Tempe two months ago, will return this Saturday to teach two classes: One on how to forage in Tempe, and one on the "living foods" diet.

The classes will offer recommendations on how to find food, avoid potentially harmful plants or fruit and how to maintain and enjoy a diet based on natural foods.

LeShure began experimenting with the diet in 2000 by trying to eat only raw foods.

"I'd become quite toxic through smoking and other habits," LeShure says. "I decided I needed to start cleansing and getting better."

Raised in a "natural foods family," he says, he was already involved at the Gentle Strength Co-op, volunteering as a cashier and eventually becoming a produce clerk. It was through a friend there that he heard about the raw food diet.

"The key word to raw foods is 'enzyme,'" LeShure says. "Food has natural enzymes and bacteria in it which are beneficial to your body that are lost when the food is shocked by cooking."

Eventually, his interest in raw foods led him to foraging, and later, to the living foods diet, which was started by Ann Wigmore and gained popularity in the '60s and '70s, he says.

Wigmore was a big proponent of the healing properties of natural foods, he says, treating terminally ill patients and nursing them back to health with her special diet based on wheat grass.

Her legacy, the Ann Wigmore Institute in Puerto Rico, is where LeShure says he was certified as a teacher in the living foods diet. Now he is starting his own company, Wild and Living Foods, where he will teach people of the benefits of life with a natural foods diet.

"The years I've spent foraging and on a raw foods diet have been the best of my life," he says. "Going on walks isn't just work, it's a lot of fun."

For the dietary class, LeShure will teach a session on maintaining a diet that he says takes advantage of natural, raw foods to create a healthier lifestyle. Before that, he will take the culinarily adventurous on a walk around Tempe to literally eat off the ground.

By spending only a few hours a week on foraging walks, LeShure says he has gotten as much as 80 percent of his diet for free.

"Phoenix is quite possibly the best city in the country for foraging, and people don't know," he says. "If you travel to other cities like I have, you can see that."

LeShure says the area's glut of food for foraging is a result of the Valley's agricultural history, which goes back more than 500 years to the area's original Native American inhabitants. Available food includes greens that might otherwise be dismissed as weeds, citrus fruits, dates and various nuts.

"The city is very close to the river, which makes it a very lush area," he says. "You can look down from 'A' Mountain at the neighborhoods west of ASU and see that."

Compared to buying produce at grocery markets, foraging makes a lot more sense, LeShure says.

"People might have to search harder, but when there's fruit rotting on the ground, and we're going to the store to buy food that took extra energy to produce and transport, that's not right," he says.

LeShure says that foraged food can provide most of the nutrients needed for a healthy lifestyle -- nuts and acorns provide fat, greenery provides minerals and proteins, and fruit provides sugars, carbohydrates and vitamins. In addition, all raw foods have enzymes which aid in their digestion that are lost when cooked, he says.

The diet also enhances his enjoyment of food, he says.

"Wild greens are so fresh, and there's so much flavor in them, you don't even wish for salad dressing," he says. "Granted, it takes times to adapt, but once you do, you can taste subtle flavors normally overpowered by sugar and salt."

In addition to the raw foods he eats from foraging, LeShure also says he adheres as much as possible to a "living foods" diet. The diet focuses on eating food raw and on using a technique called "sprouting," in which seeds and nuts are planted and nurtured until they sprout, when they are then eaten.

The diet is about more than just healing, LeShure says - it's about maintaining a vibrant lifestyle.

"I feel better now than I've ever felt," he says. "I feel like He-Man."

Reach the reporter at benjamin.horowitz@asu.edu.



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