Forbidden Foods is the dissertation project for my Master of Arts in Design for Change. Specifically, this project examined how foraging relates to questions of land access, cultural heritage, and the right to healthy food. The project aimed to incorporate experiential narrative design by engaging a public audience in a foraging scavenger hunt for wild edible species while learning about the history of land access rights in Scotland. In doing so, people interact with the environment by utilizing a variety of senses and become more aware of the time, resources, and ecological requirements needed for food to grow. The goal is that tools like this will help grow public appreciation for food growing practices and increase emotional investment in land management strategies in local regions.

There are two components to the project: a written essay and an interactive foraging exhibit. The exhibit combines digital and physical design to guide the viewer through Cammo Estate, a historical site and public park in Western Edinburgh. Along the way they learn about wild foods, sustainable harvesting and stewardship, land access activism in Scotland, and historical uses of plants and fungi.
Project Overview
Food Justice
Wild Food
Land Access

From theory to practice

I wanted to create a project that would focus on education, as this felt like the opportunity to create the greatest impact to communities directly. Specifically, I wanted to create an educational experience that would foster connections between the average person, wild food educators, and land stewards/activists.

From a design perspective, I did not want to be entirely reliant on traditional UX as my design medium. I wanted to experiment with some of the many new forms of design I had the opportunity to try over the course of my program. Given the nature of foraging, I had to be sure to include physical artifacts as well. I thought about how I first learned how to forage - mostly through in-person small group classes, social media, and a lot of time spent doing online research. I wanted to create an experience that would be more accessible and more specific to the land history of a particular place and time.


Designing a guided experience

I decided that this educational experience would be a foraging exhibit - one that participants could guide themselves on, but be invited to participate and learn more from once they were done. To start, I needed a basis for how interactive science communication has been attempted before. In particular, I wanted to understand interactivity from a citizen-scientist perspective. In selecting a place to apply these methods, I wanted a site that straddled the (perceived) boundary between the man-made and natural world. The site I chose is Cammo Estate in Western Edinburgh, a Local Nature Reserve. The park itself is just off of a major road, making it accessible by bus from Edinburgh City Center. Through a series of observational walks through the park, I identified as many spots as I could around the estate that had edible plants and fungi. From this initial mapping, I was able to narrow down the list of species to those that were beginner-friendly, cross-referencing with materials from other foraging educators in Scotland. In the end, I had a list of ten species in season at Cammo from the end of July to the beginning of August.

I wanted to introduce these species in a way that conveyed both human and non-human ecologies, historical purposes, and wove in the tale of land access through the example of Cammo. It was also essential to do all of this in a manner that fostered community and connection, creating more awareness around the professional foraging services and educators in and around Edinburgh. I decided to create a scavenger hunt, where walkers hunted for species in search of geocaches.


The hunt would be based on a system of wooden plates with QR codes to allow walkers to join in at any point in the journey. I created these plates by taking a piece of chopped birch wood from Cammo estate, cutting it into slices, and laser engraving QR codes onto the slices. The QR codes would be placed next to geocache canisters filled with trading cards of each respective species. The cards contained information about sustainable harvesting practice, human and non-human uses for the species, and where to learn more information from from foraging educators local to Edinburgh.

digital guidance in physical space

To kick off the scavenger hunt, walkers were prompted to scan a QR code. This launched them into a Figma prototype of a mobile app. The apps sets the scene for the scavenger hunt, lays the ground rules of responsible foraging, and sets the user on the course, going through each of the 10 species one at a time. Between species, the walked is told about the history of Cammo and how it relates to the larger history of land access and foraging in Scotland.

I tested this initial experience with walkers one sunny Friday afternoon at Cammo. With a total of 8 participants, I learned a few key pieces of feedback:

•  Walkers were torn between wanting more obvious geocache canisters, some enjoyed the challenge
•  One of the canisters was stolen midway through the testing! I needed to try to thief-proof the geocaches more
•  The land access narrative, while interesting, needed to be incorporated in more digestible doses
•  Canisters needed to be placed more obviously near the species they were meant to be associated with

‍While the activism that led to the Right to Roam being accessible in Scotland has been and continues to be indispensable in the for access, it is a privilege. It is a privilege to trespass, and unfortunately it can even be a privilege to wander around public parks and engage in something as simple as bird watching, much less actively harvest from the land. I acknowledge the privilege I have in being able to wander Scotland and my home state of California. There is a need for further collaboration with BIPOC foraging educators to create an intersectional foraging education approach that builds a decolonial, anti-racist, and truly accessible right to wander.

Looking forward

I was initially reluctant to utilize a phone-based experience given the project’s emphasis on being present with the land. However, with the time and monetary constraints of the project, it made sense to use my background as a User Experience Designer in crafting this experience. The physical dimensions of the experience were a new application of design for me, and I was challenged to not rely entirely on my digital background and think more critically about movement through space.

As an American, I could not help but compare the culture and practices around land access in Scotland to those that I grew up with. The strain being put on California’s state parks is just one example of how restrictive roaming and foraging legislation can lead to more stress on the environment, rather than conserving it. Furthermore, conflict between legislation at the federal, state, and local levels with regard to park use makes it difficult to know which regulations are most effective, if any.

While foraging as a sole source of food acquisition is not a reasonable goal for most people, there is still value to be gained by engaging in foraging to supplement diet and as a recreational and community-building activity. There is a clear need to directly link wild food with concepts of land stewardship, sustainability, and the creation of care communities to mutually ensure the preservation of non-human species. This will lead to continued enjoyment of the environment for generations to come. The nature of wild foods as a free resource with no established ownership makes them a strong potential entry point for establishment of food commons, either as a physical set of spaces or as a civic community. Ultimately, if there is one takeaway I hope everyone who has interacted with this project in some way, it is to take a walk: engage your senses in as many ways as you can as you go. The boundaries that divide us are far more malleable than we realize.