Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Free Food ... Really!

Deus Ex Machina and I spent the end of last week on a cross-country adventure. No, it didn't snow in Maine prompting us to pull out the skis a few weeks earlier than usual, but we did drive halfway across the country to a ski-resort in Pennsylvania where we were Presenters at the Mother Earth News Fair.

It was an incredible experience, not because of the hundreds of people who stopped to listen to my talks, but because of the opportunity to meet some pretty wonderful and really smart people - like Sandor Katz, who helped fuel my intense interest in fermentation as a means of preserving my harvest ... and who was just a really nice guy (even though I was a little agog and must have sounded like a star-struck teenager - thank goodness Deus Ex Machina kept his level-headedness :).

My solo talk was about our adventures in wild foraging, mostly this year, when we embarked on a personal challenge to make a concentrated effort to forage some of our food - and not just go out and pick a few plants, but to really incorporate those foods into our regular diet.

In the beginning, we had three goals:
  • To have one meal per week that included some foraged component (like foraged maple syrup on our foraged blueberry pancakes);
  • To learn to preserve some of what we gathered for use later on;
  • And to have a party at the end of the summer and invite our friends and family to join us in a foraged feast.
We were successful in meeting all three of our goals, but there was another, unexpected but very exciting consequence to our "season" of foraging. We discovered how incredibly empowering it is to know what's out there, and know, that worst-case scenario, there are things out there to eat. We can feed ourselves. We might not eat a lot, but neither will we starve, and so foraging isn't just a one-time project for us - it's become part of what we do.

I started my talk with some reasons why we decided to start foraging. Part of it was just for the skill-building, but there were several other reasons we have been attracted to learning to forage. Concerns about food safety certainly fueled our efforts. From BPA in packaging to GMOs to bacterial contamination, it's gotten to the point that nothing in the industrial food complex is safe to eat.

The other significant motivator was the cost of food. As I mentioned in my talk, in 2008 the price of flour tripled - a fact which I reported here on my blog, and after I mentioned it and linked to the well-known flour company, I had a comment by their PR person, who told me (and all of you), that weather-related crop failures that year had affected the price of wheat, which, in turn, affected the price of the flour they sold.

Food prices have been increasing, pretty steadily, since 2000. In fact, this graph shows that, while prices have been on a kind of roller coaster up and down, the general trend has been steadily increasing with some food commodities tripling.

After I got back home, I spent a few hours reading news and headlines. I found two articles that really hit the proverbial nail on the head as to why Deus Ex Machina and I have so fully embraced this foraging lifestyle.

The first is a poem called Being Poor. There was a time in my life when I lived that reality. The one about not taking a job because there is no reliable child care hit home pretty hard, but for me it was not taking the opportunity of a lifetime to teach in Guam, because I didn't have (and my credit was so bad that I couldn't even borrow) $3000 to get me through the first month until I got paid. I would have added that "being poor means borrowing from Paul to pay Peter, and then, being so poor that one can neither pay the debt nor afford the filing fees for bankruptcy." That's where I was in the early 1990s, as a recent college graduate with children. In fact, when I was a grad student, my son was in preschool, and his clothes were in such rough shape, one of his teachers sent home a note telling me about a clothing pantry where we could probably qualify for help.

The second was an article about shortages at a food pantry here in Maine. When the cost of food increases so much that those organizations that are designed to feed people who can't afford food, can't afford food, things are pretty bad. As the article mentions, Maine is one of the ten poorest states in the US, and we have some pretty significant environmental factors working against us. When it's cold, and we have to choose between heating our homes and eating, life can become scary.

Taking control of finding our food has been a huge part of what Deus Ex Machina and I have been trying to do for the past decade. I mentioned to Deus Ex Machina that if something happened to our income, we'd definitely be making some significant lifestyle changes, and it's long been my stance that I'd fight with everything I have to keep our house - even if it means that we have to eat weeds and burn what twigs and fallen branches we can find out in the woods.

We haven't reached that point where doing those things is the difference between life and death, but by cultivating that knowledge and skill now, we're much better positioned should that become our reality.

We were so fortunate to be asked to present at the Mother Earth News Fair last week, and I was humbled by the number of people who came to hear me talk. The best part, though, was that so many people came up afterward to share their stories with me. It gives me hope, that even with all of the bad news, there are some incredibly amazing and positive things happening.

As Kenny, from Veggie Gardening Tips, mentioned, there is a lot of food out there. The key is knowing what to look for ... which isn't really as hard as it sounds - at least that's what this suburban-raised, suburban-Mom learned in her "Season of Eating Free."

And if I can do it, so can others.

1 comment:

  1. The ability to forage for food must be learned before the necessity to forage for food becomes a reality. I'm afraid most people won't learn now for future use.

    The other thought that crosses my mind is where those that could really use the ability to forage would not have access to places to forage. I live in SW FL and while there are foods to forage - citrus & other tropical fruits in the winter, greens most of the year- the places that are available are not readily accessible. I know because I've been looking the past two years.