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In Defense of Hunting, Fishing, and Foraging

Nature isn't a museum and Hank Shaw, the author of Hunt, Gather, Cook makes a compelling case for eating wild foods.

Finding food in the wild keeps us honest. At least that's what Hank Shaw argues in his new book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast.

We live in an edible world. It's all around us, if you look closely. You can see it in lawns and at the beach. It thrives along every river, on hillsides, and deep in swamps. You can even steal glimpses of it growing between the cracks of abandoned parking lots and on untended mounds of earth forgotten long ago by construction crews. Nature's garden grows, yes, but it also flies through the air, runs through the brush, and swims through the water.

Most have forgotten the feast that lives all around us. Many stalk the supermarket aisles searching, not for real, honest food, but for the latest flavor of frozen dinner or convenience food. Our hunting and gathering is now largely restricted to picking through the produce aisle for the best ear of corn or keeping an eagle's eye out for so-called bargains. But our instincts are strong. We've been hunters and gatherers eons longer than we've been farmers. Esau is far older than Jacob. Who among even the most urban of us has not eyed a ripe blackberry with interest, even lust, while walking along a path on a hot summer's day? I live in a county of nearly two million people, many of whom run, walk, or ride our local bike trail every day. On that trail, I can be assured that much of what I forage for during the year will remain untouched and unnoticed by these masses. But not the blackberry. As soon as they ripen in July, they are gorged upon by passersby. It is the gatherer in us trying to escape.

What stops the blackberry pickers from enjoying the miner's lettuce, mushrooms, or acorns that surround the bramble? Innocent ignorance and a healthy fear of the unknown. But recognizing wild plants, fish, and animals is no different than recognizing the difference between a head of lettuce and a head of cabbage, or the difference between a deer and a horse. If you can pick a blackberry, you can pick other berries. Or dandelions. Digging clams is not such a stretch, nor is fishing. And for many, with fishing comes hunting—the quest for the original free-range, organic meat does not stop at the water's edge.

I am not content to merely be a spectator in nature. I feel compelled to play the part humans were born to play. Gathering acorns. Picking berries. Digging clams. Hunting birds. These are active pursuits that bring me closer to nature and make me deeply aware that we are all part of the natural world. We cannot live outside nature, as estranged as we may feel sometimes, living in cities or subdivisions. The natural world is not a museum, filled with exhibits to be looked at but never touched. It is our home.

Reprinted from Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast by Hank Shaw. Copyright ©2011 by Hank Shaw, courtesy of Rodale, Inc.

Illustration by Josh Gallagher/GOOD.

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