Foraging Gets Trendy: But Is Trendy Sustainable?

Image credit: Channel 4

Only last month we heard, via Food and Wine, about eating dirt as the latest weird restaurant trend. And it seems this magazine, which is usually a champion of unbridled luxury, and even excess, is on somewhat of a sustainability kick these days. Sure, there are still plenty of ads for cruises and SUVs and living the high life, but they are interspersed with articles on solar cooking in Haiti, and now another TreeHugger habit turned cullinary trend—foraging. But is it really sustainable if everyone is doing it?Let's be clear—we are not talking about foraging in trash cans, aka dumpster diving, here. (We're not sure if that will ever make the pages of Food & Wine!) But rather the art of finding and enjoying wild food. From food foraging lessons for the recession, through Wild Girl's urban foraging in Portland, to a slide show on foraging food in unlikely places, this is a topic dear to many Treehugger's hearts. But what happens when it becomes a widespread trend?

According to Food & Wine, foraging is indeed the next locavore fixation. In fact, some people like professional forager Kerry Clasby even make a decent living out of foraging and selling their goods to top chefs across the country.

The article doesn't directly address the long term sustainability aspects of widespread foraging, but it's an interesting question. On the one hand, as I noted in my post on hunting, fishing and hypocrisy, embracing "wilderness" not just as sanctuary, but as a productive resource, can be a great motivator for conservation. On the other hand, we only have to look at deforestation around the world, or the consequences of overfishing, to understand that gathering resources from the wild can have disastrous consequences.

Ultimately, the question is probably not whether foraging is or isn't sustainable. There's a world of difference between gathering and making acorn flour, to harvesting and eating rare specimens of plants or fungi. The real conundrum is how do we ensure that foraging—assuming of course that interest continues to grow—not only has minimal negative impacts, but also becomes a real force for conservation.

It's already been shown that community ownership of wild spaces and empowerment leads to better conservation. So finding ways to turn foraging into a sense of ownership and stewardship has great potential for protecting our wild spaces. Now how we manage the profit motive of professional foragers, and the demand from chefs who want wild-crafted goods shipped around the country, that's another question.

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