by Marc Richute
You meander endlessly through the aisles of a market looking for sustenance. Holding a green pepper in each hand to see which one looks better and tossing back the cucumber with a dent in it, you now make your way to the deli staring aimlessly at the selections waiting for a number to be called. Hours later the shopping list is finally complete. After all your items are secure in the cart it’s time to swipe some plastic currency and head home. Oh, did you remember that wretched store card so you can get the discount? Congratulations, you just (sort of) foraged.
Foraging is simply defined as searching for food. We have all heard stories about our great grandparents scouring the woods for mushrooms, acorns, blueberries, and so on. It appears from most accounts that life was rough and food was scarce. So why the recent longing to get back to that? For starters, foraging is in our DNA. There has always been an intrinsic need to find food and provide it to our families. In addition, there is a distrust in the quality of food we purchase and the folks providing it to us. Some no longer want to put their faith in others to provide the most basic building block of life.
The modern supermarket has certainly transformed the way humans obtain nutrition. It’s no surprise why a large majority of people find it easier to hit the market after an eight hour workday, rather than search the woods for morsels. However, it was not long ago when it was ordinary that everyone had to find solace in acquiring their food outdoors. We (humans) have complicated our lives so much with busy hectic days that we have no other choice but to opt for convenience.
But wait, there is still hope. You do not need to forage your entire diet. Begin your journey with small incremental steps and set realistic achievable goals. Do some research and pick one item to study. For instance, if you choose dandelion, familiarize yourself with its appearance, growing patterns, practical uses, and the best time to forage it. I expect you will not have to walk far to find some.
Responsible foraging can be summarized in four stages: observing, inspecting, gathering, and consuming. Ideally in a perfect world, you would spend a year observing the item you desire to forage. You need to fully recognize the yearly life cycle to appreciate and understand when to collect your findings. Next you are ready to inspect your discoveries. The inspection process is straightforward and perfect for those who have great attention to detail. Be sure to check and recheck your field guides for accuracy. At this point you can gather what you need. Don’t be greedy; the plants need to grow back and others (humans and animals) may want some too. Please practice responsible foraging. Now you are ready to consume your bounty and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Foraging may seem like the latest trend, but it is much more than that. It is generations of people feeling nostalgic for a time they only read about and did not get the opportunity to experience directly. There is an imminent sense of adventure, as well as a reflective return to our basic aspirations of living with foraging. This scavenging wisdom has always been with all of us, and will hopefully remain with all of us.