Brilliant inventions, Malcolm Gladwell writes in The New Yorker, tend to arise simultaneously in disparate geographic locations. Urban foraging, too, was dreamt out of the collective unconscious and onto the Earth plane by multiple people – of which I am one. For me the appeal of foraging is that it acts as a powerful catalyst, inspiring epiphanies of deep kinship with the natural world through pure experience. It is not a protest, not a critique, not a reaction against or moral judgment about anything; it is a primal act of communion with the natural world.
Some foragers say it is just about food, that wild edibles represent a novel gourmet trend; or that it is a spin on the “locavore” diet fad, a clever way to whittle down one’s guilt and carbon footprint in one fell swoop. (Which is not wrong — just can be myopic). Others, especially the fruit-tree gleaners, claim foraging as an expression of freeganism — the political critique of consumer culture made famous by Dumpster diving devotees. Freegans seek to highlight the excess of capitalism by reclaiming discarded trash as community resource. This is a valid and valuable philosophy, but I believe wild food foraging transcends the dualist ideas upon which freeganism stands. After all, plants inherently belong in the context of the whole world, and so the lens we see them through must be broader than the economic considerations within human society.
The freegan question is of particular interest to me right now because in a recent article, a reporter for Portland’s Enzyme web site took the liberty of making assumptions about my motivations and thus incorrectly labeled me — without asking –- a freegan who forages to reclaim “urban waste.” This was a glaring misrepresentation of my views.
First, plants can not be “waste.” Waste implies inanimate objects, things whose value is as resources to be exploited or consumed. No. Plants are living creatures who exist for their own sake. That we consume them at all is because they offer gifts of nourishment and healing.
The act of wild food foraging, of plucking plants from the Earth with our own hands and putting them into our bodies, echoes within the heart, the the space from whence our instincts emerge — and it does so whether we intend this consciously or not.
Thus wild food foraging transcends reactionary critiques and dualist conceptions of good or bad, right or wrong. As the pure experience itself is profound, the act needs no additional labels to be meaningful.