Foraging, and people’s interest in learning how to forage, has increased throughout the pandemic due to the rise of social media foragers and also the stress and distress surrounding supply chain issues and general unrest. It allows some people to gain a deeper understanding of their environment and feel a greater sense of control over their food source.
Foraging also allows you to feel more connected to the land you inhabit. If it is through getting to know the general area better because you are taking more trips outside, or being more observant when you’re outside because you’re on the lookout for edible plants, or simply knowing which areas tend to produce the most of a certain plant or herb. Foraging is a great way to connect to your local environment and to learn a bit more about its history and what it has to offer.
How has foraging become more mainstream over the past few years?
A combination of the rise in social media use and an increase in time spent inside or more generally at home during the pandemic has helped push foraging into the mainstream. The rise of TikTok foragers has both increased access to information on foraging itself on the history and continued implementation of foraging practices. Alexis Nikole Nelson talks about specific plants and fungi she finds, and how to find them and distinguish them from look-alikes. She shares TikToks/Reels that teach viewers how to cook or prepare the plants and fungi she has foraged.
In one video she demonstrates how to cook and eat chestnuts, and afterward, goes into the reasons why the American Chestnut is “functionally extinct.”
Even if you are not interested in foraging, it is worth following some foraging accounts on social media, not simply for the foraging content and education, but for the information these creators and educators share regarding sustainable living, and sustainable diets.
Nelson recently posted a video on the subject of veganism.
In this video, she discusses that a vegan diet is not necessarily less impactful than a diet that includes animal products. While Alexis is a vegan herself, she acknowledges that it may not be the most environmentally friendly diet for everyone. She uses the example of someone in Boston eating an avocado, which has an exponentially larger impact than someone else buying and eating meat from a local farm.
We can learn more from foraging than simply how to forage.
The principles of foraging can be applied to people’s dietary practices, outside of someone’s foraging practice.
Foraging usually involves going out into one’s local area and finding food. Buying local, if and when possible, is a great way to cut down on one’s carbon footprint. Depending on where you’re located, a small local farm likely has better environmental practices than a large-scale commercial farm.
Joining a CSA program is one way to support local farms and to reduce your carbon footprint. Not only do these farms often have better environmental practices than large-scale commercial farms, but food doesn’t have to travel as far to get to you, which cuts down on energy used for transportation and energy used to keep food at the correct temperature during transport.
While foraging, you need to take cues from nature in order to know what area to look for a particular plant or fungus and to know what you might find based on your local climate. This could depend on the current season, or on last season’s rainfall. Depending on whether it was a wet or dry season, you may gain insight on what species may be scarce, or in abundance.
Taking cues from nature will allow you to eat a more sustainable diet, even if you aren’t foraging. Knowing which fruits and vegetables grow locally, and are in or out of season can inform decisions made in the grocery store. Buying fruits that come from far away, such as buying avocados in Boston, will have a greater impact than buying locally grown squash during squash season.
Buying produce at the grocery store that is out of season, means that produce is imported from another country, likely in the opposite hemisphere, or is grown in greenhouses. Both of these require vast amounts of energy, which creates a significantly greater environmental impact compared to local, in-season produce.
Foraging requires you to get creative. Using food you found yourself will push you to try new things and you will be less likely to waste food you found yourself. To avoid food waste try using your leftovers in new ways. When you find yourself with produce that is nearing its end but you don’t have enough of it to make a particular dish, figure out how you can incorporate it into a different dish or make something new entirely.
Foraged food may not look as pretty as store-bought food and that is okay. Food does not have to be perfect in order to have value. We are accustomed to seeing perfect-looking produce at grocery stores and we are not used to eating fruits or vegetables with physical imperfections. There are some services, such as Imperfect Foods in the United States, that re-sell produce that grocery stores would normally throw away at a discounted price. This makes food more accessible and decreases food waste.
Getting more comfortable seeing and eating produce that is not perfect, on an individual level, limits food waste in the home, and gets you the most out of your purchases (although make sure to do your research in instances of mold, bugs, and rot). If we lowered our standards for “acceptable-looking” produce on a societal level, we would drastically decrease food waste, and food could become more affordable. With more produce making it out of grocery stores, there would be less pressure on farms to produce extra because a substantial portion of their crop (around 30%) will be thrown out.
Before foraging it’s essential that you know what you’re looking for and know what you’re looking to avoid. If there are fungi that look similar and would grow nearby any ones that you’re looking for make sure to know that it exists and how to tell the difference. Be sure to follow any local laws or ordinances that prohibit the foraging of any particular plants or fungus growing in your area.
Another useful strategy is to join online communities. Facebook groups, subreddits, group chats, and in-person connections can be essential when learning more about foraging. These groups can serve as additional sources of verification if you’re unsure about a particular plant or fungus.
As this ancient practice becomes more mainstream, as with many indigenous practices, we can use its principles to guide us towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Foraged samphire in a bowl. Featured Photo Credit: Andy Ballard via Pixabay.