This thought has come up time and again over the past 15 or 20 years, and now with the world financial situation what it is, and with people struggling to feed their families, it has me really trying to come up with an answer.
It was in the back of my mind when we put together the book "Wild Foods for Every Table" here at The Essential Herbal. I had recently read one of the stories that come up from time to time about a young boy lost in the woods for days, and how worrisome it was that there was nothing for him to eat. When he was found, the rescuers quickly fed him energy bars and donuts.
I find it horrendous that humans have grown so distant from their food sources that it would be possible to lie down upon a bed of chickweed and burdock, and die of starvation while pine needles and slippery elm trees wave overhead. No matter what the season, with a little bit of education we can all find something good and nourishing to eat outside.
Wild foods are not some trendy novelty. Many of these foods escaped the colonial gardens of our ancestors, or fed the Native Americans here in the US. In other lands, the wild foods were what shaped and formed the national cuisines until more convenient forms of these plants were developed - and later processed, preserved, and packaged.
We have been trained to think that food must come in cartons and packages, far removed and nearly unrecognizable from the original condition. Kids at the grocery store check-out ask me what the different veggies and fruits that I buy are called. Serving my own siblings a delicious plate of steamed nettles or lamb's quarters is a novelty that is generally politely declined. Why? Because it didn't come in a box or bag from the freezer with a Green Giant or Bird's Eye on it. I'm guilty of this myself, having had a hard time getting used to the rich saffron colored yolks of eggs from our chickens rather than the pale chiffon yellow eggs at the store. I have to push myself to get past the sterilized world of foods that we've all been forced into.
But now it isn't funny anymore. Now there are people in parts of the developed world who are subsisting on meager supplies of canned vegetables and scouring trash dumps for food. I'm not talking about places where drought has wiped out any vegetation. I'm talking about countries where people are accustomed to going to the grocery store and buying foods - just like the people in the US.
So the dilemma as I see it, is how to educate people in the art of foraging. How do we change the mindset from how it stands at this moment? Wild foods - roots, greens, fruits, etc - are so much more nutritionally valuable than the pablum we're buying. Their flavors are unique and full. They are free, plentiful, and available to nearly all but the most urban areas. And, should those who do have them available choose to utilize them, there would be more food for everyone, even those who do not live in an area where these wild foods are readily available.
Do governments need to start programs like the Victory Garden programs, and teach people how to find and identify these foods? That was certainly effective! Those of us who do eat wild foods and make wild medicines are nearly universally willing to teach anyone who will listen. Yet this whole topic still has the stink of radical fringe all over it. Somehow it needs to be legitimized and made acceptable to the average person who is struggling to make ends meet.
So how do we get from here to there? How do we make this happen so that people can stop going hungry while they pace over land covered with food? Is it just a matter of waiting until enough people become hungry enough? I hope not. I really hope not.