Hunting and Gathering

positive feedback loop
positive feedback loop

Wild foods are more sustainable, more nutritious and free. Restoring wild species of plants and animals can potentially provide much needed nutrition to millions with little or no cost while in turn restoring the natural environment.

Currently, 1 in 5 Americans experience food insecurity at least once a year and 1 in 3 American children is either overweight or obese. It has become a terrible paradox of our times that malnutrition and obesity often go hand in hand. While many people try to eat fresh or organic produce, these items remain too expensive or unavailable for many Americans.

Through the centuries, people have progressively bred domesticates for productivity or size or shelf-life. A consequence of that has been food that may be high in calories, but low in nutritional value. Edible species of wild plants and animals, however, are usually much more nutritious than the majority of their counter-parts that can be found in the supermarket. Spinach, considered a “superfood”, pales in comparison to the common dandelion which has around 8-10 times the available nutrients.

Wild edibles are free. There is no cost for the dandelions that grow in your yard or the grapes and passionfruit which hang in the park. More than that, they are free-ing. It may seem easy to us to walk into the grocery and pick up a small pack of fruit, but this is a mirage. Countless man-hours and resources go into sustaining this cornucopia, not to mention the labor everybody puts in just to able to afford access to it. Where on the other hand, picking and utilizing foods that grow around us naturally, consumes much less time and energy.

Wild species are also easier to propagate as they’re well adapted to their native environments. Many of these species are capable of thriving on marginal soils that most domestic species couldn’t tolerate, so the amount of physical labor required to care for these plants is marginal at most. They require little to no extraneous resources like fertilizer, pesticides or supplemental watering. They can be planted at our homes, in our yards or across city parks. There are already many programs which encourage the planting of native species in urban areas. For people who live in rural areas, at least here in Texas, you can get substantial tax relief by managing your property for wildlife.

Agriculture is the biggest cause of environmental destruction the world over. More so than urban sprawl or fossil fuel extraction or climate change. The majority of clearing in the rainforest is for beef production. Learning to make use of wild, or naturalized foods instead of domesticates, means benefiting from the landscape in its natural form, instead of it needing to be cultivated to be useful. Personally, I believe that this has led to what many people have tried to describe as a disconnect between humans and the rest of the natural world.  Many of the edible species our ancestors ate even as recently as 50 to 100 years ago, are considered weeds or pests today. But despite our best efforts to eradicate these undesirables, they return for us year after year, in the hopes that we might again see them for what they really are.

Perhaps the greatest enticement, besides free supplemental nutrition, is an opportunity for community. Learning more about where your food comes from is an important lesson that most children miss out on. And when that food comes from your local environment, the act of eating it has the potential to allow you to be a part of something greater than yourself. That communion is what forms the basis for communities of people around the world. I’m not suggesting a return to the Stone Age, 7 billion humans can’t wholly subsist as hunter gatherers, but providing a way for people to supplement their diets with free, nutritious, sustainable food can benefit them in a number of ways; from improving nutrition to simply bringing people closer together and improving gender equality and social values. This could even have the additional benefit of helping to lower fertility rates in many places. Giving people an alternative means of subsistence means they may not need to rely on having as many children in order to prosper in an agricultural system, but improving social communities and promoting gender equality, gives them that choice.

Many people have suggested in recent years that we could improve our diets by eating different foods or by eating foods which more closely resemble their wild ancestors. The problem with that, and with the organic movement in general, is that these foods remain out of reach for those who need them most. Teaching people to utilize the wild foods which are growing free around them, not only benefits them, but it establishes a positively reinforcing relationship with their environment. These species are an intricate part of the ecosystems they are found in; animals depend on them, they cycle nutrients and provide other ecosystem services. Propagating them can help to restore natural habitats for wildlife and to generally improve the environmental quality of our homes. And the more that the environment benefits in this way, the more people see how benefiting their environment benefits them as well. This can form the basis of a positively reinforcing relationship; and over and over again, around and around.