Edible Northwest

Wild-foods expert John Kallas chows down on nature
Bonnie Henderson

"People would think, 'Yep, he's an odd guy,' " John Kallas says of his college days, when on camping trips he'd be cooking birch-bark spaghetti while his friends roasted wieners. But you can't become a leading authority on wild foods if you're a picky eater.

Nor can you learn it all from books, though the Portland author, researcher, and instructor has the academic chops too, with degrees in biology, zoology, and education and a doctorate in nutrition. But much of his knowledge has come firsthand ― from walking, looking, sniffing, picking, roasting, stewing, and tasting. Today he shares his knowledge through events and outings with his one-man company, Wild Food Adventures.

Raised and educated in Michigan, Kallas settled in Portland 16 years ago. The bioregion at the meeting of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers is "sort of the mecca of wild foods," equaled only by the Carolinas and West Virginia in its diversity and abundance of native edibles, he explains. "For a person who studies plants or teaches about plants, there couldn't be a better place in North America."

Why wild foods? "It taps into your primal stuff," he says, "when people were still running around grunting at each other. Even before there was language, we were eating. Our whole day's pursuit was gathering food." Plus, seeking wild edibles is like "being in the most beautiful supermarket--and you can actually get your sustenance from it."

Get a taste

Half-day and longer workshops offered Apr-Oct ( www.wild foodadventures.com or 503/775-3828).