Urban Foraging

What happens after the fall, when we are trapped in burned out cities, utterly disconnected from our rural sources of food, let alone the commercial agriculture supply chain which reaches, sometimes, for thousands of miles? What happens as we wander desperately through parks, trying to figure what’s edible and what’s not, longing for protein while pigeons sweep overhead?

Brendan Kiley pondered this very issue in The Stranger this week, with interesting results. (I should warn my readers who are more faint of heart that the article is quite graphic, and at times rather gross. So if it’s early morning, you think bunnies aren’t food, or you don’t like facing the realities of meat, please don’t click that link.)

Brendan has prior animal murder street cred, having grown up in Alaska on wild-caught venison, fish, and other things. And he wondered, seriously, what would happen when people were forced to fend for themselves, when the time comes that food isn’t delivered to us in sterile packages in the supermarket. He decided to become an urban forager (for game, alas, not vegetable matter), and write about the experience.

He had another reason for this project:

Non-vegans, I told my friends, were hypocrites to not have confronted the reality of eating meat and wearing leather by killing an animal with their own hands.

This is a sentiment I have long agreed with, myself—I’ve written about it elsewhere before. I strongly believe that anyone who eats meat, ever, should be fully prepared to slaughter, dress, and “deal” with it. Meat doesn’t come in sanitized packages, it comes from living, breathing animals and we should respect that. We have lost our connection with the animals we slaughter for food. Very few butchers exist, anymore, and those that do are hampered by USDA and FDA restrictions. It’s actually quite a challenge to find humanely raised and slaughtered meat. (If you care about humane slaughter, I recommend buying kosher and supporting the Humane Slaughter Act. If you are about humanely raised meat, buy locally from people you can actually meet, who are not afraid to take you on tours of their farms and talk about the animals they raise. Or you could not eat meat. That’s always an option, too.)

There is a growing awareness in this country that factory farming of animals is morally repugnant, and that we need more transparency in our food supply. A growing number of people are turning to small local farms for their meats and other animal products—farms they can visit, with farmers they can meet. Farmer’s markets are exploding around the country, with some of the largest in urban areas, which to me is a very good sign. Our whole food system is in for some major reforms, which I applaud, because it’s high time that we remembered and respected the source of our food.

But as Brendan writes, there’s another side to killing your own meat, and that’s knowing how to do it. Humans, in many ways, are over domesticated. Are you capable of harvesting your own meat and vegetable products? Can you find edible things in urban areas, and survive on them? Are you prepared, truly, for the zombie uprising?

Urban foraging sounds foolish, like some sort of indulgent hipster project, but it might make the difference between life and death, someday, somewhere. Knowing which plants are safe to eat and what kind of preparations they need is a helpful thing, and I’d love to see colleges and universities offering foraging classes–not only because people would learn about biology and interconnected systems and so forth, but because those skills would be valuable later (unlike, say, a Bachelor’s in Anthropology).

In the 1960s, there was a big push to “return to our roots” and recapture agrarian ideals. I think we’ve all realized at this point that it’s not going to happen. Partly because there are too many of us. There’s not enough room for us to retreat to the pastoral dream, because the pastoral dream is being eaten alive by our housing developments, highways, factory farms, and CAFOs. Partly, though, most of us lack the feral note and determination that it takes to live off the land.

What will happen to us all?

[urban foraging]