Foraging does not equal free food. I mean it sounds like it would, right? You go out to the woods or beach to pick, dig, and scrounge for food. As idyllic as foraging sounds, it’s not free. It’s not even cheap. Not at all. Okay, it seems free if you own property, and I do, but the only things forgeable right now are dandelion greens. There are probably other things too, but I don’t know about them yet. But even on my own land, the dandelion greens are not free. After all, I have a mortgage and property taxes to pay. Add it up over a year, and that’s some damn expensive salad and tea.
Apart from gear and proper licensure, foraging elsewhere almost always creates a carbon footprint. How are you going to get to the forage site and home again with your haul? My big expense is transportation costs. Fuel is around $3.50 a gallon in Washington and my truck gets down the road about 15 miles before that $3.50 is vaporized. Yes, the answer seems to be a more fuel efficient vehicle, but replacing a perfectly useable Ford 150 seems wasteful and costs money too.
On the surface, and with my rose-colored glasses on, wild eating seems to be an ecologically responsible decision. I’m having my doubts right now, and I hate that. I’m less than two months into the project, and I’m questioning the sustainability of such a venture. I mean, I know it is not an answer for most of America. For one, wild eating takes an amazing amount of time. Early retirement affords me the luxury of time, a precious commodity most folks hold in short supply. I thank the military and my resolve to stick it out when I spend the day in nature while others are stuck in the office. I do not take for granted how fortunate I am.
Another realization, and kind of a no-brainer, is that there is not enough wild food left on our planet to feed everyone. But for me, at least for this year, going wild is a process I plan to see through.
So, how do I justify fuel spent chasing fish, squid, oysters, and clams up and down Puget Sound and beyond? I multitask, or at least I try to. I align my life with the tides. The alarm clock no longer rules my day. I’m moved by the gravitational pull of the moon. It’s really quite efficient. Take Monday for instance. Jaden was coming home on the Kingston Ferry after a 3-day weekend with his dad. Kingston is a good distance from my house, about 30 miles one way or $14 in fuel. I scheduled his return just after low tide and hit a beach park for clams along the way. I dug 7lbs of butter clams valued at about $4 per pound in the grocery store. My beach success offset the trip cost, a trip I had to take anyway. I saved money. But this doesn’t always happen.
Another cost to ponder is the systemic effects my eating has on the actual creatures and plants consumed. I carefully pluck seaweed frons, so not to destroy the giving plant. I’m mindful of my feet on the beach and the beings I may tread on. But for the clam, the cost is huge, irreversible. How do I measure the life loss of a lowly bi-valve versus a graceful deer versus a tidy package of hamburger? I can’t. The math is too difficult for this omnivore’s contemplation.
And how do I adjust the costs with assumed and tangible benefits? I’m not sure, at least not yet. The benefits of going wild are multi-faceted and realized on a daily basis. I gathered $28 of clams on Monday night. Easy. But I didn’t do it all alone. Garret, my son, drove me to the beach, helped refill my dig sites, and kept me company with his constant bitching and moaning about how cold and bored he felt. When we finally arrived in Kingston, Jade’s ferry was late. Garret and I sat in a pub. I drank Guinness. He drank root beer. I watched him scrap the last spoonful of clam chowder from his bowl and pop it into his mouth with true gratitude. He was warm, smiling, and conversational. This is rare form for a high school senior amidst finals, district swim qualifications, and the pressures and obstacles he endures while attempting to visualize life after graduation.
I’ll gladly pick up the bar tab, listen to belly-aching, and burn gas money for another chance to watch him polish off a bowl of chowder. A content teenager is a lovely sight to behold. And on a cold winter night in January, my beautiful son was happy. Priceless.