Ask Your Doctor if Foraging is Right for You

Ask Your Doctor if Foraging is Right for You

Gathering the facts

As the world burns a lot of people are deciding that maybe living a life closer to nature might be a good idea.

Foraging is a marvelous way to supplement your diet but I haven’t met very many people who gather and hunt for 100% of their food.

Some things to consider.
Finding your own food has a steep learning curve. You need to learn plant identification, how to differentiate between edible and poisonous plants, how to gather, prepare, or preserve the plants, and what should be gathered for long-term use as opposed to more immediate use.

There will be some food that you can find in your town like fruit trees, nut trees, and edible weeds but in the event of a collapse of the food system, those sources may be stripped bare in a relatively short time.

An interim strategy might be to find out what edible plants grow in your area and then plant those in your garden. As long as the ecosystem is intact enough to support growth that would give you a supply of food at least for a little while.

The idyllic vision of a cabin in the woods continues to attract adherents. Spending your days hunting, gathering, and being responsible for your own life and the lives of your loved ones does have an appeal. Unfortunately, while it may have been a valid choice 50 years ago, there are now new elements in play that might make this a little less practical.

The environment is degrading rapidly and this is going to result in a lot fewer choices when it comes to finding and gathering food.

One example of this deterioration is the effect of climate change on the traditional staple foods of the Native Americans. “The trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses have to find normalcy (resilience) in an abnormal atmosphere. In our (Californian) sixth drought in the past 35 years, resources struggle to survive; trees are hit by invasive pests such as mistletoe, Sudden Oak Death, worms, and weevils.”

Another food source being poisoned is fish. “A recent analysis of government reports derived from more than 500 samples of freshwater fish (fish living in streams, rivers, and lakes across the U.S.) showed that they're contaminated with PFAS” (Nadia Barbo, et al, Locally caught freshwater fish across the United States are likely a significant source of exposure to PFOS and other perfluorinated compounds, Environmental Research, 28 December 2022.)

Fishing for food was, again, perfectly valid years ago but as we continue to poison our environment things that we thought we could count on are becoming less reliable.

The water we need to sustain ourselves is another casualty of environmental degradation.

Water quality is also affected by climate change, as higher water temperatures and more frequent floods and droughts are projected to exacerbate many forms of water pollution – from sediments to pathogens and pesticides (IPCC).

Population growth and increasing water scarcity will put pressure on food supply (IPCC) as most of the freshwater used, about 70 percent on average, is used for agriculture (it takes between 2000 and 5000 liters of water to produce a person’s daily food) (FAO).

“Climate change can increase the growth of harmful algae and cyanobacteria in fresh, salt, and brackish water. It can make blooms occur more often and be more severe. For example, warming temperatures in Lake Erie have contributed to extensive blooms of the cyanobacteria Microcystis aeruginosa that last into the early winter months. In the past several years, such blooms have been found more often and in more places across the United States.”

With droughts affecting countries all across the globe and the presence of waterborne pathogens, it might be optimistic to assume that there will be a ready supply of fresh water available.

The great outdoors are rolling up the welcome mat.
Places that used to be safe are becoming much less so. “Climate change has already made conditions more conducive to the spread of certain infectious diseases, including Lyme disease, water-borne diseases, and mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.” 

Zoonotic diseases are becoming an increasingly real threat. “An estimated 60 percent of known infectious diseases and up to 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are zoonotic in origin. Each year, zoonoses are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million human deaths worldwide.” (source)

In addition, commonly hunted animals are becoming dangerous to eat. “Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a highly infectious and fatal neurological disease that’s spreading through North American herds of elk, moose, mule, and white-tailed deer, may be more transmissible to humans than previously thought.”

The best-laid plans.
While the intention is noble, the idea of being able to feed yourself and your family when industrial food sources begin to dry up is becoming more and more unobtainable.

Not that we need anything more to worry about but this should figure into your planning. To expect there to be a readily available source of food in the natural world might be an expectation that will result in a, possibly, life-threatening disappointment.

Adaptation is not an available option.
We can't adapt to the rate of change that is taking place it “would require rates of niche evolution that are > 10 000 times faster than rates typically observed among species, for most variables and clades. Despite many caveats, our results suggest that adaptation to projected changes in the next 100 years would require rates that are largely unprecedented based on observed rates among vertebrate species.

The authors of that study were overly optimistic in their assessment of how much time we have left which means the rate of adaptation would have to be even faster.

The best we can hope for is local adaptations based on current conditions which can change drastically in a very short time.

Should you learn to forage?

Should you understand that any preparations you make are interim measures at best?

 …and keep in mind two things:
This is going to be fun until it isn’t.
It’s going to get bad before it gets worse.

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