“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us” — Robin Wall Kimmerer
This week we are taking a bit of a break from the social justice focus and instead talking about sourcing your food straight from nature. However, this topic, just like everything else, is inherently steeped in inequity. From the pollution caused by the meat industry, to the low wages and bad conditions for workers on certain farms, and the unequal access to nutritional food for the poor and people of color, the food system in the United States is messed up. Foraging is an effective and rewarding way to decrease your impact on the environment and stop enabling the food industry, but it takes a lot more time and effort then grocery shopping.
The Secret Life of Mushroom Hunters
From Outside Magazine comes an interview with Langdon Cook, author of The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America. In his book, Cook explains the crucial role mushrooms play in the ecosystem and in cleaning up the mess humans have made. “We've discovered that mushrooms can mitigate oil spills; they've been shown to cleanse radiation out of the environment,” said Cook. The mushroom hunting community has a long history of violence and conflict. Cook details a tense encounter with a group of hunters from Laos in which he, as an “outsider” was suddenly forced to leave.
Urban Foragers Take the Law Into Their Own Hands
In much of the Pacific Northwest, foraging is illegal due to the risk of over-harvesting and environmental degradation. But foraging is not just a new fad; many people forage because they can’t afford groceries and for others it helps them feel closer to nature. In NYC, foraging is illegal as well, but that hasn’t stopped people. One man, “Wildman” Steve Brill has been leading foraging tours around the city since he was arrested for eating a dandelion in 1986. But Brill is just one of many people to get arrested while picking. One solution to the recent crackdowns are human-planted “food forests” that are supposed to replicate wild forests and allow foraging. Beacon Food Forest, located in a poor town in Seattle, allows free foraging and identification classes.
Foraging on stolen land
Most of the knowledge on wild edible and medicinal plants in the U.S. comes from indiegnous peoples as their techniques were developed centuries ago. However, today as foraging is becoming increasingly popular, indigenous folx are finding it harder and harder to forage. Although a law was enacted in 2016 that allowed registered Indigenous peoples to forage in National Parks, many indigenous folx are being excluded due to arbitrary identification processes.
The Honorable Harvest
Along with respecting the people who first foraged on this land, when you enter the woods to forage, you must agree to the rules of the non-human. According to Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, these rules are called the honorable harvest. Studies show that picking pieces of a plant can actually help its growth. However, this only works if foragers take only what they need, never take more than half of what a plant is offering, give gratitude, and as Kimmerer says, “never take the first, never take the last.”
Thank you for reading! This week, I hope you take the rules of the honorable harvest out into the forest with you.