How we grow, source, process, prepare and relate to foods is a fundamental dimension of the permaculture way. My expertise lies in the realm of wild, feral or otherwise non-cultivated but important potential food crops that have a vital part to play in more holistic and sustainable ways of living.
Wild plants are their own reasons, their own ends, having an intrinsic validity and truth beyond any means-to-end perception of their utility as potential food that you or I might wish to impose on them. Yet in a peak or post-peak oil world, wild foods inhabit a unique and pivotal realm between worlds past, present and future.
At a time of increasing concern over food security, and short-sighted global reliance on a mere handful of staple food crops, wild foods speak the language of resilience, they speak the truth of inherently low-impact sustainable harvest, where sustainable isn’t just a co-opted green-wash term. Instead it resonates with the ancestral and historical wisdom of ages, of ancient peoples foraging and fed, nourished and supported for millennia upon millennia. Of course, globally and cross-culturally, temporally and spatially we no longer inhabit the Palaeolithic era.
I’m neither arguing for nor against such a return; that’s a debate for philosophers and intellectuals. For me however, I only observe the ever-present awareness that, for whatever reason, my recessive hunter-gatherer genes are pushing me into a reciprocal dialogue with plants, and wild food plants. As a consequence, absurd as it may sound, foraging has become my vocation. Listening to my heart, the doubts and mental clutter that neurotically leads to pointless questioning has fallen away. All that remains is a clarity of purpose whereby I recognise the need to step into vulnerability, to offer as a gift my determination to fully and honestly explore the profound potential of wild food plants as a vital component of the modern diet.
The Wild Food Challenge
Beginning on 1st May 2013 I’ll be fully exploring the potentials and pitfalls, the practicalities and circumscribed realities encountered when consuming a 100% wild and foraged food diet. To be perfectly honest, the way I've structured the project so as to keep me fully alive and awake to learning, to live deep and suck out the full marrow of its possibilities – to paraphrase Thoreau, is both something I find wildly exciting as well as utterly, utterly terrifying.
A thematic structure will inform each month’s foraging investigations: for example, July will be 100% wild, raw and vegan; October will explore the influence of ever decreasing circles of habitat access, foraging exclusively within 25 miles of home for the first 10 days of the month, within 12 miles for the following 10 days and, finally, within 1 mile for the last period; April’s challenge will be a total immersion in the Stone Age, 2 weeks from static base camp, and 2 weeks wandering nomadically; some months will simply focus on the potential to sustain heart, body, mind, and soul from a foraging perspective whilst living in a regular house, using fridges and freezers, and bicycles, cars and trains to move around.
In addition to this, and in order to expand out beyond my own limited perspective and to enrich the understanding and lessons gleaned from this journey, for one week each month and a few more weekends throughout the year, I’ll be inviting others to document their unique experiences as we lead the 100% wild food life together.
The Spirit of Play
With an overarching and serious emphasis on exploring themes of sustainable living, a number of playful motifs will orchestrate various experiments throughout the year; after all, adequate and adaptive responses to our unfolding global predicament will surely arise not from increasing fear and disconnection, but will issue instead from a childlike heart of trust and intuitive insight.
It is in that spirit, to take just one example, that I’ll be dabbling in the world of what you might call wild doppelgangers: Mimicking conventional foods using 100% foraged ingredients: soy sauce and related sauces, tomato ketchup, marmite, bread and pastry, custard powder, mayonnaise, wines and spirits, vinegar, including balsamic and salad dressing, pesto, pâtés, cheese, hummus, yoghurt, doughnuts, mustard, curry powder, and chocolate!
These playful attempts to fully unlock the magical potential of wild foods merely hints at the fascinating and creative possibilities inherent within the experiment. Possibilities become virtually infinite when combined with the more traditional processing and preservation techniques I’ll be exploring: salt curing, solar drying, lacto-fermenting, bottling, smoking, pickling, freezing, root cellar storage, preservation in fat, with sugar or using wines and spirits.
Nomadic Palaeolithic tribes lived unfettered by the constraints of private property, monetary economies, polluted habitats or the clock-watching tick-tock tyranny of time. As a modern-day hunter-gatherer attempting to fully and freely explore the vast potential of wild foods with similarly unfettered constraints, my relentless exertions will only be possible with the generous help and support of a modern day tribe. I ask you to please help in any way you can.