Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Rights to Wild Foods and Medicines

Between 2009-2011, I led an anthropology study on urban foraging. The first set of results from that project are now published in the academic journal Human Ecology (full article here: Urban Forest Justice and the Rights to Wild Foods and Medicines in the City).

The structure of the article is fairly straight forward for an ethnoecology and science publication. We present the findings within a larger discussion of forest justice and food sovereignty. Both of these topical fields have developed in non-urban areas, so we're pretty excited to shine light on the issues as they unfold in a city. Although it's rapidly changing, the thought that cities have forested ecosystems and that food is produced there is still quite new. In many places, legal codes do not recognize that wild food and natural medicine are at home in the city.

During the course of the research project, our team was honored to hear the stories and experiences of many foragers, some who have gathered wild foods and medicines in the city for over 50 years. There are so many amazing quotations that capture the depth and importance of this practice. Below, I share a few anonymous comments from the participants.
You can go out and you can appreciate [nature] and say “oh, my isn’t it pretty” and people can show you and you can learn by that. But when you interact on this level, when it becomes part of your pantry, when it is part of which you eat, now you have a relationship. You’re not an outsider observer. It’s not this “other” thing. It’s part of you and you’re part of it.
 [Foraging] has a lot of potential to shift a lot of things for a lot of people. And for our environment. If we’re eating from our environment, then we’re tending for it and caring for it. ... everything we do is with a mindfulness of our connections to life - whether it be the life inside of us, the life inside of a plant, the life inside of an animal, another person.
Making your own medicine empowers you to be honest. Knowing that you have control. They can tell you what not to buy. They can restrict things. But no one can stop you from taking a walk in a park and finding herbs.

Our main theoretical and applied contribution is to create a theory of "Urban Forest Justice." An urban forest justice framework recognizes the rights of local people to have control over their own culturally appropriate food and health systems, including access to edible and healthful wild resources, participation in decision-making about how these are managed, and the fundamental ways that cultural identities and social relations are embedded in forest systems provisioning wild goods.       

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