Thursday, 24 September 2009

On foraging and the right to roam

From my viewpoint, which I recognise may be a little off-the-wall, foraging is an essential skill. Foraging allows us to "live within the landscape" in a way that is unique and goes some way to helping us reconnect to the planet on which we depend. It can also reawaken a knowledge of our dependence on the land and a sense of protectiveness towards it. This is, in my opinion, desperately needed.

At a time when world hunger is reaching epic proportions, our food supply is completely unsustainable: it is fragile in the face of peak oil and climate change. Reconnecting to the land and developing the skills to live more bioregionally are not only desirable, but essential.
Foraged food is really the ultimate in local seasonal food.
As a vegetarian of 23 years standing I have put some thought into my diet and have decided to eat flesh.

Where I live in Shetland there is an abundance of shellfish. As I walk by the sound I find edible seaweeds, maritime plants, oysters, mussels, cockles and crabs (along with winkles and whelks) within minutes.
After consulting the local offices of SEPA and the local Environmental Health Office regarding the legality and the safety (sewage, blue-green algae etc.) of foraging in the area, and having received some very positive support and clarification, I have decided to try my hand at foraging my own dinner once in a while.

If harvested on an individual scale with respect for their life-cycles and the local ecosystem, then I believe that my foraged seafood may have a lower environmental impact than Quorn, which is shipped in from the mainland, or cheese with all its associated animal-welfare and environmental issues.

One argument which I have heard against foraging is that "If everybody did it, it would not be sustainable", but it seems to me that this argument completely ignores the lack of sustainability of our present practices. Yes, care must be taken and I do not believe that foraging alone will provide food for all. But I think that if more people foraged (with care and respect), our worldview might well improve.

The right to roam or to gather shellfish, and access to the land and to the foreshore, have a long history in English and Scottish law. There is something very satisfying about going for a ramble and gathering food along the way, or going out with some buckets and a drop-net with the kids, or even going blackberrying, hunting puffballs and field mushrooms, or taking part in Abundance Project like the one in Sheffield (http://www.growsheffield.com/pages/groShefAbund.html).

Familiarity with our local bioregion and an understanding of our dependence on the planet that feeds us is critical to developing awareness of how unsustainable consumption impacts the planet, and in recognising that the results of our over-consumption will have a direct impact on ourselves and our descendants.
Land-rights and foraging-rights are vital as a means of educating ourselves, and may, in the future, become critical as a means of supplementing our families’ diets. They must be preserved.

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