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Foraging: Living Off the Fat of the Land

by Asinus Asinum Fricat Wed Jun 18th, 2008 at 02:18:22 PM EST

[editor's note, by Migeru] Originally published on May 21

Noun 1. foraging - the act of searching for food and provisions.  

The prices of staple foods such as rice could stay high for the next three years, hindering the battle against poverty, a top World Bank official said Tuesday. I personally think this may be the understatement of the year. With oil prices to hit $200, widely predicted by our own Jérome a Paris and others, I doubt very much staple food will come down as the price to fill a gas tank could, more or less, double within the next five years. Foodstuffs need reasonably priced transportation and it looks as though it's going to get worse before it gets better.  

Welcome to world of foraging, a lost art for most as more and more convenient stores and supermarket chains crop up in neighborhoods with dizzying regularity. Try this for a change: take your family to the nearest forest, gather wild produce and see if you can bring home the bacon, so to speak.

Cross-posted on DKos & PolitiCook

Promoted by Migeru


There is such a thing as a free lunch after all, the elite forager insists, as long as you know what to look for. Henry David Thoreau, the master forager, understood that gathering foodstuffs was about more than the end crop:

"The bitter-sweet of a white-oak acorn which you nibble in a bleak November walk over the tawny earth is more to me than a slice of imported pineapple."

Foraging isn't just fun, it's green as well. No food miles, no pesticides, no pointless plastic packaging, plenty of fresh air, no money exchanged...what's not to like?

My life as a forager started early. My great grandmother, a tireless walker with an encyclopedic knowledge of Provencal lore and the woods around us initiated me aged five. Off we went on most clement mornings, our jute bags with large carrying handles over our shoulders and our Opinel knives (a must have for serious foragers) safely sheathed in our back pockets. She would decide, depending on the season, of the day's gatherings. Most days we would head for the forest and on others we'd go to the seaside and explore our pine trees covered "calanques" for seawed, baby clams, tiny crabs, sea-urchins (my job was to dive and select females only, as males didn't bear eggs), whelks, and of course pine nuts which were plentiful. The trips to the forest were longer and more exciting: we had to climb the nearest tree to avoid galloping wild boars a couple of times.

When the mushroom or the stone fruit season wasn't on, we'd set off for specific areas, all intimately known to her and start gathering wild carrots, asparagus, garlic, artichokes, nettles, all kinds of edible berries, wild spinach (though it could have been collards), wild herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and when our bags were nearly full, we'd pick some wildflowers for our favorite family members and head off home. The only bit of food we'd ever take with us was a small loaf of country bread, and two small bottles of olive oil and vinegar, and a little salt, in case we decided to make a salad on the spot. To my best recollection we came back with full bags each foray.

Here are a few tips on what to look for should you wish to explore the nearest woods.

First of all be very sure of what you are eating and know what Poison Ivy and wild Parsnip look like to avoid them while foraging. Be a responsible forager, asking for permission when necessary. Be kind to the trees and plants you harvest, leaving enough behind for them to regenerate or reseed. Always leave some for the wild birds and animals that depend on them for survival. Never gather too much in one area that looks stripped or bare.  

Violets: the purple or white flowers of all American violet species are edible and can be found in the early spring on lawns, on roadsides or in the woods. They can be used as beautiful garnishes in salads, or candied for cake decorations or an elegant dessert.

Dandelions: many people know that dandelions are edible, but few know how to deal with them. The leaves must be picked before the flower heads open, or they will be very bitter (my great grandmother used to soak the leaves overnight in water with the juice of one or two lemons). They are very good in a salad, especially one with a Dijon mustard dressing.

Elderberries: it's easy to pick elderberries, just snap off the entire cluster and drop it into your bucket. They are not tasty fresh or in pies, but cooked into juices or jellies, they are delicious.

Purslane: this plant is a weed in the States but is cultivated in Europe and Asia today and has been grown in India and Persia for centuries. Added to soups and stews, it can help to thicken the broth, as does okra. It is also good fried with bacon, or in an omelet.

Yellow wood sorrel: a tart, delicious three leaved plant that I have gathered in my childhood. It is first seen in early spring, and its tiny yellow flowers are a cheery sight after a long winter. It has a lemony flavor that goes well in salads and cold or hot fruit soups.

Ah, and the mighty chestnut, the most delectable wild source of carbohydrate bar none. There are, of course hundreds more wild eats, and I could go on till the cows come home, but diary size matters!

The most overlooked area to forage is our own gardens, yards, and property, and that could be another diary in the future. In the meantime here's a small list of websites for your perusal, should you decide to give foraging a try.  

LearningHerbs.com, is a site with some great wild food recipes. The Journal of Wild Mushrooms; Modern Forager;Fergus the Forager; Backwoods Home; About Forager's Harvest Classes; Wild Food Foragers.

Display:
What percentage of our nutritional requirements can be met by foraging in Western Europe?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 11:36:47 AM EST
individually or culturally?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:14:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Culturally.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:21:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A hundredth.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:34:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That much?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:44:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've repeatedly seen assumptions of population density of 1 hab/km² for hunters/foragers in temperate climates, and I am under the idea that the European population density is around 100 hab/km²...

That means of course after all the land has returned to some sort of "wilderness". And the absence of competition from other large predators, nowadays decimated in Europe, may mean slightly higher densities.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 07:12:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nonlinear scaling of space use in human hunter-gatherers -- Hamilton et al. 104 (11): 4765 -- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
In this paper, we follow the definition used by animal ecologists and refer to the space used by an individual or social group as its home range. The home range, H0 (area in km2), required by an individual to meet its metabolic requirements is determined primarily by the rate of resource supply, R (in W/km2). Because humans feed on animal and plant foods, rates of resource supply, like most biological rates, increase exponentially with ecosystem temperature. Ecosystem temperature affects rates of biological production and interaction at multiple levels, including biomass production, ontogenetic and population growth rates, timing of life history events, and interactions with parasites and diseases. Much of this variation is captured by the Boltzmann factor, e-E/kt, where E (in eV) is the activation energy for the rate limiting biochemical reactions of metabolism, k (8.62 x 10-5 eV K-1) is Boltzmann's constant, and T (in K) is temperature (16-18).


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:58:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So we don't know?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 01:29:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd say from the calculations proffered, then there's an order of magnitude difference in the possible results. plus much of the most productive foraging areas have been covered in concrete


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 02:10:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you include hunting and breeding chickens as well as cosmetic picking at hedgerows, it gets slightly more likely.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were enough rabbits within a mile's radius of where I live to feed the entire village over the summer.

Since it's about a mile between villages, that would be a start towards self-sufficiency.

But that's to feed around fifty people - not fifty thousand.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 06:42:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So 50 people per square mile?

The UK has a population density of over 600 per square mile. Oops...

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 18th, 2008 at 02:14:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think you can keep fifty people alive for a year if all they do is forage - probably in any area.

While the rabbits here are plentiful over the summer, over the winter there's really nothing at all available for picking off a tree - unless you grow it, preserve it, or both.

In medieval times, 15-30 acres (6 to 12ha) were considered enough to support a family. Modern farming would be - at a guess - 5 to 10 times more productive.

So you could homestead successfully and possibly also be energy self-sufficient on around 3-5 acres, or perhaps an acre if you're a sustainable farming god.

But it would be organised seasonal growing and storing - foraging wouldn't be a big part of it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 18th, 2008 at 09:26:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So we're talking 1-2ha per family for food... 2ha might also provide you with 20KW of wind power.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 19th, 2008 at 03:08:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You'd need 20kW if you wanted to run an electric tractor - if such a thing existed, which so far as I know it doesn't. Ploughing with donkeys or oxen isn't a ton of fun.

Your self-sufficiency still depends on reasonable weather. If it's too wet or too dry or too stormy or too sunny, your crops fail and you starve.

The most useful thing civilisation does is manage storage and distribution of food to create a surplus and a safety net. (For most of the world.) The second most useful thing is management of infrastructure, including irrigation, drinking water, drainage and power distribution. The third is centralised access to expert services, including R&D/innovation, and medical care.

If everyone is a smallholder, all of those become more complicated and potentially less effective.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jun 19th, 2008 at 03:43:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which is why survivalism is only realistic in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 19th, 2008 at 05:20:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
The most useful thing civilisation does is manage storage and distribution of food to create a surplus and a safety net. (For most of the world.) The second most useful thing is management of infrastructure, including irrigation, drinking water, drainage and power distribution. The third is centralised access to expert services, including R&D/innovation, and medical care.
We might want to use this as a counter to suggestions that Civilisation is a Pyramic Scheme.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 19th, 2008 at 05:23:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it should be possible to meet most, because for a healthy living we do not need all that much protein and fat as most people eat today. Also their vitamine and mineral content is often much better as the cultivated plants, as they grow on richer and unspoiled soil and they are organic.

According to this nice book about edible wildplants there are over 1500 edible wildplants just in Central Europe. Besides its fun collecting your dinner when on a hike.:-)

by Fran on Thu May 22nd, 2008 at 12:59:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For how many people? I mean, if we have 99% die-off I can believe it, but not otherwise.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 22nd, 2008 at 10:39:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have a pro photographer friend who planned to do a photo recipe book about living out of commercial dumpsters. He lived like that for a couple of months when the work was very thin on the ground for a freelancer - and he's a tough guy, having walked from Mexico to Canada and cycled across the States.

He said that almost any kind of food was thrown out by supermarkets and he could always find decent food, ignoring the most conservative sell-by-dates. And fruits, bread and vegetables are easily inspected.

I don't know if he ever did the project.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 11:45:16 AM EST
I know having lived like this for a couple of months once that at least one major UK supermarket had a policy of throwing bitter, purple coloured dye over its discarded food to prevent this sort of behaviour, and to prevent the poor and unemployed from gathering round their shop and making it look unsightly

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:11:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Finland there is something called Everyman's Law which allows anyone to enter any non-fenced off forest and pick berries, mushrooms, and anything else - for free. In the autumn especially, you can't drive in the country without finding cars parked by the roadside and the whole family in the forest with their wellies, their baskets, mushroom knives and a mushroom reference book in case anything odd turns up. Quite important as there are several types that can do anything from mildly ill to dead.

Morels are the very best, hard to find, and generally come up at the same spot. So if you find a secret morel spot in the woods, you tell nobody ;-) Morels are poisonous, but after two changes of boiling water they're fine. Possibly the most delicate, delicious fungus around.

Wild berries are great, and Finland has a lot of varieties - including of course wild strawberries - small, tasty. You walk along a summer lane with a dry hard thin grass stalk, and thread the little strawberries onto it as you find them along the way. Then you can sit down and rest, and eat them all at once. There are so many mushrooms and berries out there in the whole of Finland that it is thought that millions of tons go to 'waste' each year. So the Everyman Law is no threat.

My days of berry and mushroom picking are sadly over. I'd be in hospital next morning with my back muscles in a cramp so painful that any kind of back movement would be sheer pain. I've had two ambulance trips from that kind of prolonged bending, and don't intend for it to happen again.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:01:05 PM EST
Sorry to hear about your back.

Finland sounds like my kind of place (apart from the fact that I'm the world's biggest Sibelius fan and a keen reader of the Kalevala lore).

by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:22:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I live less then 5 kms from Ainola - Sibelius' home ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 12:42:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In a sense Sibelius was a musical forager, not afraid to hunt and search for atmospheric themes and ostinati-laden  works.
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Wed May 21st, 2008 at 07:00:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Same here, forest and even farming land are open for everybody. Just during summertime until after the harvest you are not allowed to cross the fields, but have to walk around them. Same, most waterfronts are open to the public.
by Fran on Thu May 22nd, 2008 at 01:02:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In northern Arkansas natives competitively forage for morels.  My neighbor and another relocated Okie friend of his use his friends boat to go to othewise difficult to access parts of the forest surrounding the two large lakes which grace the Twin Lakes area.  My neighbor has also hunted wild turkey for at least 60 years, with a bow.  Same for deer.  

The tail waters of both Bull Shoals and Northfork Dams are nationally ranked trout fisheries. Various species of bass are taken from the lakes and rivers.  Stripper bass reach forty pounds or more.  So do catfish.  Either can be butchered by seperating sections along the spine, sort of like pork chops. I have neither fished nor hunted since I was a teen in Oklahoma many years ago, on the edge of the prairie in the oil patch.

My neighbor and his brothers used to provide most of the meat for the family dinner table back in the late thirties and early forties. Keep a few chickens, grow a large garden, eat your kill and you will have need of a lot less cash.  This is how people lived 60 years ago and may again soon.  The entire population of Arkansas is about 3 million souls.  They would all fit in one end of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.  In a societal breakdown or post-apocalyptic scenario they would mostly die there.  Not so here.  That is one reason the locals want to hang on to their guns.  Hunting is another.  It is very primal.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun May 25th, 2008 at 11:34:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unsurprisingly, Allemansrätten is shared heritage so Sweden has basically the same rules.

Though technicly correct, I disagree with your translation. Divided into parts it is Alle-man-s-rätten Every-man-s-law, but if we view Alleman seperately I suspect it is connected to the word Allmänning, which is the swedish word for Commons. So I would lean towards 'Law of the Commons' as translation as it makes more sense.

And here are the swedish rules:

Allemansrätten

You have the right:
  • to take a walk, a bicycle, go horse riding, or to go skiing on all land not cultivated, and on such land that can not be damaged by your visit, this provided You do not cause any damage to crops, forest plantations and fences.
    However, You are not entitled to cross or stay on a private plot without permission. The plot, which is not always hedged or fenced in, is the area closest to a dwelling house.
  • to take a walk, a bicycle, go horse riding, or to go skiing on private roads. Motor vehicles may be used if the owner has not forbidden such traffic.
  • to pick wild flowers (excluding those protected by law), berries, mushrooms, fallen cones, acorns and beechnuts on land that is not a building site, a garden or a plantation, to bathe or go by boat on most natural watercourses.
  • to take water from lakes and springs.
  • to put up a tent, or park your caravan, or trailer, for twenty-four hours. For a longer stay You have to have the permission of the owner.
  • You may make a fire, as long as You do not cause any damage, however there are restrictions during periods of drought when there is immediate liability for a forest fire. You may use fallen branches and or twigs as fire wood. Never light a fire on bare rocks as they will crack and split, resulting in ugly irreparable scars.
  • to bring Your dog and let it loose as long as You have full control. Restrictions are listed in local statutes and regulations.
You are prohibited:
  • to cause damage to, and/or pollute the land.
  • to ride on a motor vehicle on private property, so that damage may be caused, or on a private road, when the owner has forbidden such a state. Restricted areas are also gardens, cultivated sites, or, constructions made by the owner.
  • to breach branches and twigs, to take the birch, bark, leaves, bass, acorns, nuts or resin from growing trees and bushes.
  • to pick wild flowers protected by law.
  • to park a caravan or trailer in such a place where the land could be damaged.
  • to make fire so that the environment could be damaged or endangered.
  • to let dogs run freely on private hunting-grounds.

According to some, I guess this could never work. Tragedy of the commons and all of that. Funny then how it has worked for so long.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jun 18th, 2008 at 07:43:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All very nice as a way of providing some extra variety to diets for a small number of people or maybe supporting people in some post-apocalyptic fantasy, but no use at all to support mass human population.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 22nd, 2008 at 10:42:46 AM EST
I'd love to know how to do this, but I'm not somebody who trusts my ability to recognise real things from pictures in a book. I have to be shown them.

I'd love to do a foragers course.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu May 22nd, 2008 at 03:00:05 PM EST
Hunter gathering will support a human population, just not one so large as we have at the moment. That is surely why agriculture was invented, to supply the food needs of more humans.

Bottom line is that there are too many humans. As the numbers increase, a point will be reached when human ingenuity can no longer evade the law of limits. At that point we must inevitably see large scale deaths from famine.

by Gary J on Thu Jun 19th, 2008 at 08:18:38 AM EST
the World Bank has a complete plan to prevent any recovery to normal food supplies.
by Lasthorseman on Fri Jun 20th, 2008 at 09:12:44 PM EST


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