There is a peculiar difference between the acquisition of food from the supermarket and from the wild. It isn’t a tangible difference, one that can be quantified and explained away with numbers and statistics. It’s much more abstract than that.
The difference is a feeling that evades the supermarket harvester and will never reveal itself inside grocery store walls. It is only felt by those who have a much deeper and more intimate connection to their food.
For the majority of time on this planet, humans have directly relied on the bountiful offerings that earth has provided. Harvesting involved not only the physical process of acquiring food, but the emotional feelings of achievement and personal fulfillment that went along with it. Food, while plentiful, was never a guarantee, and it’s not hard to imagine periods of ample feasting, followed by fruitless episodes of fasting. The vicissitudes of obtaining food, therefore, aligned the body’s biological and psychological needs – the physical requirement for food and the emotional thrill in finding it.
Contrast this scenario with the modern supermarket shopping experience. The biological requirement for food is easily met, yet the psychological thrill of seeking and discovering that food is extremely diluted (at best).
Going into the grocery store, the shopper already knows, almost precisely, which foods will be there and where they will be found. Mindlessly perusing the aisles, dodging the other loaded shopping carts, the shopper may never even entertain the thought of where the food comes from, what conditions it grows in, and how it appears to be so neatly manicured on the grocery store shelf.
There is no hunt for the food, no chase, no challenge, no journey, no story to be told. And because of all this, the psychological high is restrained. The connection is lost; the process is too easy.
The forager experiences a different adventure altogether. His food selection is dictated by the natural laws of his ecosystem – not by the global food network. As an astute forager, he can predict when and where certain foods can be found. But his experience is almost always enhanced by the discovery of new areas, new patches, new springs, new organisms, new highs.
As an example, mushroom hunting embodies the essence of this psychological high, where each foray is a treasure hunt into a mysterious world within valleys, riverbanks, fields, and forest floors. The fungal kingdom is a bit less calculable than that of Plantae – always full of surprises, always feeding the forager’s thrill. The mushrooms in the grocery store? Not quite the same.
It’s difficult to put into words the specific feeling evoked when discovering new foods in the wild. It seems that, at least to me, this feeling fulfills an inherent urge deep within the human spirit – to explore this world and participate in the act of accepting its gifts, while giving thanks in return for all that is selflessly given.
As one who experiences both realms, I can say this: Shopping is predictable; foraging is boundless. Shopping is taking; foraging is receiving. Shopping is an activity; foraging is an adventure. Shopping provides an account; foraging tells a story. Shopping feeds the belly; foraging satisfies the soul.
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