This week I’m looking at foraging local plants and animals. Vancouver is a coastal city with beaches littered with Pacific mussels and varnish clams, and lush parks overrun with rabbits and Canada geese.
The 1970s surge in ecological awareness saw many books published on our relationship with the natural world. ‘Food for Free’, by Richard Mabey, was published fifty years ago in 1972.
People of color and low-income communities have long gathered ingredients for meals, and foraging can help fill in the gaps in places where historic redlining has had lasting effects on supermarket options. In fact, some wild and feral foods can provide greater nutritional benefits than produce bought in stores.
Since we’re all avoiding the grocery store to help keep everyone as healthy as possible, the first thing you might run out of is lettuce. No problem! Spring is arriving in the northern hemisphere, and there are many things growing that can serve the purpose.
But wasn’t life before farming miserable? Notoriously “nasty, brutish and short?” Weren’t hunters and gatherers always on the edge of starvation, constantly focused on survival, and never able to enjoy free time? According to experts who study history: No.
The arrival of spring, she wrote, had filled the mountain valleys with purple crocuses, flowering heather, and an abundance of salad plants. “Nature’s arrangements!” Patience wrote. “How wonderful. Makes gardening seem like knitting.”
Every August the boglands and canal-banks of County Kildare erupt in yellowish tufts of meadowsweet, filling the breeze with their sweet scent.
The wild food still exists all around us, though, all over our fields, and our hedgerows create a vertical salad bar filled with food for the taking. Some of these are wilder versions of familiar vegetables, like wild parsnip or sea beet, while others have no domesticated equivalent, like fat hen or jack-by-the-hedge.
Here’s a chance to support a radical mycology project seeking to put a potent tool for restoration in many more hands.
In the 10 km radius of where I live I can source 80% of my favourite fruit, mostly for free, for a token sum, or in exchange for my own homegrown produce.
Many of the most famous wild foods have domestic equivalents, or have been widely cultivated for use.
All food was wild once, and all the vegetables in rows at the grocers were bred over centuries from what we now call weeds.