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Culture & Religion

Foraging Food May Sound Cool, But Requires Years of Study

Foraging for your own food sounds like a nice idea. But without years of study, it could be quite dangerous if you’re just setting out with a romanticized view of “living off the land.”

Farmers markets aren’t enough for some people as foraging–urban and out in the untamed lands–has become quite popular. But Seanan Forbes of Modern Farmer cautions people new to the gathering trade against going out into the wild and picking without taking time to learn. You could risk hurting yourself or an ecosystem in the process.

Forbes writes that beginners interested in foraging shouldn’t go out into the wild and start picking. You risk wasting food you won’t eat and possibly killing yourself in the process. He writes:

“Unless you know what you’re up to, the best thing you can do for your plate and the planet is to limit your foraging to the farmers market produce bins.”

The itch may be there to go back to your ancestral roots, but he cites the death of Chris McCandless of Into the Wild as a prime reason to wait and learn. It’s still unknown what killed him. Reference books can help, but it’s not enough, according to Forbes. It takes years of study and experience to be ready to forage independently—even then there’s still much to learn.

People who are experts in foraging can teach you about your local vegetation. The knowledge and experience of what plants are dangerous, how to cook them, and what combinations could be deadly are passed on through the years to other people. So, find someone to show you the ropes. Even with a reference book, out in the field you may not know if your disturbing a natural system by picking too much. There’s more nuance to foraging than you may realize and an experienced teacher can help you learn.

Mentors may also help you navigate the legal landscape–what areas are safe and where it may be illegal to forage. It may not just be that the foraging is illegal, though, perhaps you’re only allowed to pick a certain amount in a particular area. What’s more, a teacher who knows their trade may keep abreast of the recent ecological news. The landscape of our environment is always changing and Forbes makes a good point that newbies could wind up picking where there may have been a chemical spill years ago–an experienced forager would be able to point out these issues.

Books and movies have romanticized the idea of living off the land, and while it’s a good idea to know how to survive in the wild, it’s important to consider that learning these things requires commitment and study. Nothing worth knowing is learned overnight (unless it’s finals week and you’re cramming for an exam).

Read more at Modern Farmer

Photo Credit: Eugene Kim/Flickr


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