Foraging not scavenging

by Luigi Guarino on May 4, 2017

I have to say that I was a bit annoyed by this tweet from Bread for the World.

It’s not the promotion of gardening, of course. I’m all for gardening. It’s that word “scavenging,” with its negative connotations of rummaging through garbage. What’s so wrong about collecting edible plants from wild or semi-wild habitats? California’s native peoples used to do it, albeit as part of a very complex strategy of natural resources use and management.

Europeans viewed California Indians as having no concept of property, but they did recognize ownership based on usufruct of some resources, while setting others aside for communal purposes. Perhaps most important, as ethnobotanists such as Kat Anderson and Native Californians themselves remind us, they shaped the landscapes in which they lived through their extensive environmental knowledge, equivalent to our botany, ecology, ornithology, entomology, and more.

Chinese villagers in the Upper Yangtze still do it, and are saving the panda at the same time because of it.

“Wild harvesters are often some of the poorest people, because they don’t have access to land to farm,” says Natsya Timoshyna, the medicinal plants program leader at TRAFFIC, an anti-wildlife-trafficking organization that helped create FairWild.

Instead, these gatherers, like the villagers in China’s Upper Yangtze, are quietly responsible for maintaining the world’s supply of wild plants, a supply that provides medicine — as well as food — for up to 80 percent of the developing world.

And that’s just what has come through my feeds this week. Why not just use the term “foraging“? Am I missing something? Is support for wild-collected food seen as retrograde or imperialist or patriarchal?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anastasiya Timoshyna May 15, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Hi Luigi, working on supporting the better systems for ensuring trade in wild plants is sustainable and equitable, I couldn’t agree more with your post! Nastya

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Dave Wood May 16, 2017 at 8:24 am

Luigi – Bread for the World has no right to use the word scavenging – this always implies something thrown away.
And where did their `bread’ come from: it started with `scavenged’ wild cereals more than 11,700 years ago – ditto for most of the rest of our food.
I once had the pleasure of doing field work in Vietnam with their top medical botanist. He could draw crowds in rural markets with the ladies from the hill tribes: their knowledge of gathered medicinal plants was phenomenal.

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