Here in Britain, foraging is often portrayed by the media as a middle-class activity. We forget that thousands of people around the world still depend on the collection of wild food. Despite all the dietary health evidence pointing to the need for greater consumption of fruits and vegetables, half of the world’s daily calorie intake is from just three starchy species – wheat, corn and rice. Farming has brought carbohydrate-laden calories to most people but it is the wild weeds that so often provide the precious green nutrients essential to good health.
I started foraging as a single mum with three children. Always taking on extra jobs to earn money and economising where I could. The price of food has rocketed over the last couple of years and I feel for those families unable to buy nutritious food.
In 2021, I lived for a whole year exclusively on wild food – just to see if it could still be done – and I must have saved over £3,000 on food shopping. I’m not suggesting that everyone would want to live this way, but adding even something as simple as cooked nettles to your daily diet will give you a free nutrient and flavour boost without flying it in from a tropical country. (A shocking 80 per cent of British food is made from imported ingredients.) Wild food that you pick yourself is the freshest local produce with the lowest food miles possible. And the array of flavours is quite incredible.
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Over the last few years, the issues of food security and sustainable food production have been uppermost in my mind. At first, bare supermarket shelves after the ‘Beast from the East’ storm, Brexit labour shortages and Covid panic buying, coupled with the urgent need to rethink how we produce food in an era of climate change.
My thoughts now turn to Ukrainians besieged in cities where foraged food knowledge becomes vital to survival. Or those in Syria and Turkey who need to forage as entire towns have collapsed under the earthquakes. The daily news reminds us that we need to rethink how we feed the people on our planet, without wiping out all other species and the very soil beneath our feet.