Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nourishing the Wild Self: Part 4 -Wild Foods and Community

Eat Wild
"Once we have tasted wildness, we begin to hunger for a food long denied us, and the more we eat the more we will awaken." -- Stephen Harrod Buhner

An even deeper way of connecting with and nourishing your wild self is to consume wild food!  For millions of years humans have foraged and hunted everything they ate directly from the wild.  Eating from the wild requires even more consciousness and effort, and deepens our connections with the wild land, and our wild body and heart in a way that nothing else can.  Once you tap into the sources of wild food available to you, you become more aware of the fact that we are OF this EARTH, and she provides everything for us- air, water, food.    Eating from the wild season after season allows you to begin to see the larger patterns in ecosystem well-being, and fluctuations that are normal, or those which are the result of human interaction.  When you have this kind of relationship with the land you live on, weather it be an urban park, the edges of the community garden or the wild lands in the hills, you can become a caretaker and spokesperson for the well-being of that land, and the communities, human and non-human alike, that depend on it.  By seeing the wild plants, animals and places as a resource to be cared for, respected and used for food, you can prevent them from becoming parking lots, or shopping malls, or dog parks.  If you and your loved ones depend on those places and resources, you will want to defend and protect them.
 Eating wild makes you more self reliant and confident, as you become aware of what is available to you beyond what others provide.  Wild foods can include wild plants growing in abandoned lots, on the edges of farmers fields, wild berries, wild nuts and seeds, animals that are hunted for food, or fresh roadkill.  The benefits of tapping into wild food sources are many.  Plants grown on wild soils that haven’t been depleted by extended periods of agriculture are richer in nutrients, and wild animals eating the diet they evolved with, and moving about the landscape on a daily basis are healthier, happier and more nutrient rich.     
The very act of harvesting wild foods reconnects YOU with your wild self and wild body.  What does it feel like to lay stretched in a sandy river bottom picking up acorns for hours?  Do you notice how your senses sharpen, you notice every breath of wind, water tastes that much sweeter, you take in deep nourishment from the land and creatures around you, weather you see it that way or not.  Many studies have shown that time in nature improves peoples physical health, and emotional/spiritual health as well.  The wild self needs to be nourished in this way.  This goes for those who gather wild plants, and those who hunt animals for food.  Putting yourself face to face with the reality of what it means to live on this earth, and what “food” really is.  Food is far more than a plastic wrapped hamburger patty or salad in a plastic box.  Food is our relationship with the land, and a source of nourishment on multiple levels.   And how does it feel to your wild self to be able to provide sustenance and nourishment to your loved ones and community?  How does nourishing others nourish you? 
How can wild foods nourish our communities as well?  It is easy to imagine a community of women going out to gather the wild weeds, fruits, and nuts together, and returning to the community to process, store and prepare these foods.  This isn’t just an actitivy for tribes of old.  We modern humans need to nourish and strengthen our bonds to our communities, and community harvesting is a beautiful way to do that.  The same thing goes for hunting parties of men and women, and even children.  Entire families join in the hunting trip, getting out into wilder places, and can take part in the butchering and processing of any animal taken.  This kind of community work increases our sense of connection with our neighbors and friends, and our sense of interdependence.  We come to know who and how we can rely on in times of need.  People can come together to protect resources that serve the community. 
Food as Sacred
It is also wise for us to remember that our wild selves need to be connected with “the sacred.”  For some that means joining a religious community, others find it in private meditation.  But the sacrament of food is something many people have forgotten and should be brought back into our daily lives.
  Food brings people together- both to prepare it, and to eat it. Many family traditions revolve around special holiday meals, or traditional dishes.  The kinds of foods we eat are deeply connected with our social heritage and culture, and food is deeply rooted in our emotional sphere and limbic systems.  Eating food, no matter with whom, how we eat it or what we eat should be a sacred act.  The act of taking life- no matter how large or small, plant or animal, into our body to sustain us, requires deep responsibility, gratitude and presence.   Food is a sensual experience, and we should make an effort to fully take in all the nourishment that food provides- on that sacred level.  This means not watching TV while eating, paying attention to every bite, eating peacefully and joyously with others we share our meals with, giving gratitude to the creatures that gave themselves for our nourishment, and anyone else involved in the procurement of our food: farmers, workers, market vendors, hunters, gatherers etc.

No matter where your food comes from it should be eaten in the spirit of gratitude and peace.  If you feel guilty over what you are eating, or where it came from, and can’t eat without those feelings of remorse, it is time to rethink.  What is most nourishing to you?  What nourishes your community and your land base?  Are there ways you can obtain food that will fill you joy and gratitude?  Many people have chosen to refrain from eating certain foods for the guilt or environmental destruction it causes, but no longer nourish themselves completely.  It is a two way street, you both nourish your wild self deeply, and make choices which nourish the communities and land around you.  Choose to get your meat from a local rancher who treats his/her animals with love, respect and a good living.  Grow your tomatoes in a pot on your patio if you can’t get tomatoes that haven’t been raised with pesticides and slave labor.  Find or develop a community garden to allow your community to grow their own produce.  Harvest fruit from trees planted in your city that fall to the ground and rot otherwise.  Find a hunter who is willing to share his/her meat with you, or take you along and teach you to hunt your own.  Join a CSA or get to a farmer’s market.   Realize that every step you take, no matter how small it seems, to free yourself from the industrial food system that damages not only our environment, but our communities and our own personal health, serves to nourish the wild on many levels.  Find just one thing you can start doing today, or when you get home.  What will it take? Find ways to juggle your finances, or work together with others to make it easier to acquire good food.  Ride share to the farmers market each week, buy a grass fed cow and split it with your neighbors, grow a garden.  Realize that things can NOT go on the way they are in our culture- and we are responsible for making the changes happen we want to see in the world.

If you've enjoyed this series, please be aware that I gave this as a class at the 2010 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, and recordings will be available in the near future!  Check out this years conference! You won't want to miss it!  Traditions in Western Herbalism Sept 15- 18, 2011

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"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~