Monday, July 20, 2009

Freeganomics

In his comments on the Field Notes blog, Suburban Bushwacker http://suburbanbushwacker.blogspot.com/ often ends his thoughts with the tagline "Modern Life is Rubbish."

While some of the more elderly Generation X music fans might recognize that as the title of the second album from British alt-rockers Blur, the Bushwacker assures me the group actually nicked the phrase from a 1980s-era London anti-media graffiti campaign that sought to draw attention to the utter banality of suburban life.

And when I saw this recent story in Oklahoma's largest alternative weekly newspaper http://www.okgazette.com/p/12776/a/4258/Default.aspx?ReturnUrl=LwBEAGUAZgBhAHUAbAB0AC4AYQBzAHAAeAAslashAHAAPQAxADIAOAAzADMA that phrase immediately came to mind.

From the story:

"Spring and summer bring a bounty of fresh vegetation to Oklahoma City, and for some locals, that means a free lunch. By doing a little urban foraging for wild plants that grow in backyards, on roadsides and in overgrown fields, local citizens are finding a unique way to save money by harvesting the plants that most people kill as pesky weeds. It's called urban foraging, and although the practice isn't new, it's gaining ground in areas like the Oklahoma City metro."

I find it interesting that in a place as conservative and conventional as my home state of Oklahoma there is a growing number of people who, because they find it increasingly difficult to afford the manufactured products we now call food or they believe our food system is so artificial, so contrived and so unhealthy, that they're making the decision to opt out of it as much as they can.

You know a concept is mainstream when it gets its own "ism" and this latest interest in wild and free food is called "Freeganism." Although the knee-jerk reaction might be to pass it off as the faddish inclinations of a few under-employed hippies (And I say that as someone who possesses some definite redneck hippie proclivities...) don't, because ultimately it's good for hunting and fishing.

Now I don't mean it's necessarily good for the hunting and fishing industry, because unfortunately there's still a lot of room yet for contraction in said industry, including publishing. Just ask any struggling freelancer and I'll.. uhh, I mean, he'll (or she'll) tell you.

The uncomfortable (since I sorta make a half-assed living from it) truth is, I can think of few other sectors of the economy in which the target consumer is presented with as many products that - while cool, neat and snazzy - are completely unnecessary to the fundamental enjoyment of and participation in the activity itself.

And while that bloat may be particularly acute in our industry, it's simply the natural result and reflection of a wider cultural mindset to spend beyond our means on virtually every economic, social and environmental level.

Like modern manufactured food, the modern hunting and fishing "industry" may be tasty and convenient, but (and feel free to disagree here) much of it is not particularly healthy or spiritually rewarding on a personal level and it's certainly not sustainable on an economic level.

That's the bad (well, that and the fact that, since getting paid to write about hunting and fishing is basically just another consumer trinket and as such is as unnecessary and ultimately irrelevant to one's enjoyment of it as all the others, I may be forced to re-think my career options. But I hear Wal-Mart's hiring door-greeters...).

But here's the good: Hunting and fishing, whether larded up with trinkets or parsed down by choice or economic necessity, is at its most fundamental level an instinctual and evolutionary act of self-preservation, self-perpetuation and self-renewal. In a world where feeling happily, stupidly numb is normal. the pursuit of game is a vivid reminder of what it feels like to be alive.

And when, as now, the contrived, socially isolating, spiritually stunting intellectually craven and wholly bullshit world we've ensconced ourselves in starts to unravel a bit, the honest act of killing your food starts to speak to us on a level that our Iphones and Facebook accounts can't.

I know a lot of people will sneeringly discount it as some Fight Club-inspired atavistic wet dream, but as times get tougher and weirder there will be more and more urban, suburban and even rural dwellers who by choice or necessity will be questioning long-held assumptions and rejecting lifestyle choices that are phony and unsustainable.

Now does that mean everyone will suddenly become hunter-gatherers? Of course not, but the more people begin to think about their food instead of taking it for granted, the better for us. The more people decide to take a participatory, interactive approach to food, the better for us.

We kill and catch wild animals for food. There's nothing phony or ambiguous about that simple truth. And in an era in which people increasingly feel that modern life is indeed rubbish, the clarity of that truth will, I hope, resonate with a growing number of disillusioned people.

Will it be enough to save a bunch of phony-baloney industry jobs like mine? Probably not. But I'm getting pretty fat just sitting at this computer, anyway...

6 comments:

  1. Chad,

    Great post! I keep on running headlong into people and groups that just refuse to acknowledge that the excesses of everything are the root cause of... well, the excesses!

    When there is so much that you take it all for granted, the lack in one small area is magnified ten fold. Then it becomes the fault of something or someone else for the dearth.

    Sooner or later, as you say, "more people (will have to )decide to take a participatory, interactive approach to food..." That or go hungry.

    Fantastic post!
    Albert
    Instincts and Hunting
    Real Men Hunt

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  2. Chad
    Thanks for the mention and well done for being the first blogger to mention Freeganomics! I've met a couple of people who call themselves freegans here in blighty and before the summer is out I hope to have a blog up about one of their forages.

    Cheers
    SBW

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  3. Love the post, I find it interesting since in rural East Tennessee (Appalacia) where most people grew up poor, we have been foraging for years, Dandelions, morels, berries, we have made it a family activity. free fun that produces food.

    Your pal the Envirocapitalist

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  4. Thanks for the comments, guys. I really think it's something that has the potential for some mainstream growth.

    While it certainly isn't a panacea and it won't feed the world, I think anything that gets people thinking about where their food comes from is a good thing.

    There was a really interesting post over on Terrierman's blog entitled "Wendell Berry's Pipe Dreams" a couple days ago that touched on this very subject, and I have to say I had to agree with a lot of what Terrierman said, and I'm under no illusion that a return to pastoralism and hunting-gathering is a workable macro-level answer for our food issues. Just 'aint gonna happen for the vast majority of us.

    But I do think that foraging, hunting, fishing gardening, etc. on the micro level does - at the very least - gets a person to thinking about the issue.

    And these days getting the typical American to think about anything is something of a triumph.

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  5. Great post, and a nice one to read my first time here (caught the link from Chas Clifton,).

    I know that hunting and foraging can't feed the bloated and artificially sustained megapopulation we've grown. But I still find it heartening that people are rejecting the crap that's been shoved down our throats for the past four decades - the better part of my life. At least some people are waking up from the nightmare...

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  6. Hello Chad,
    Came across your blog via The Suburban Bushwacker. These are interesting and valid points of view the two of you are putting up for discussion, with some thought provoking ideas. Well done on a fantastic post, I’ll tag along for a while if that’s ok?
    Best regards,
    John

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