I hear the term “urban foraging” tossed around more and more lately and knew what my definition of it was but decided to look it up in the Urban Dictionary to confirm.
Urban foraging is a process of sorting through the dumpsters, gargbage bins, and other containers of waste to reclaim “wasted” food.
In looking a little further I found : Urban foraging can be defined as foraging for free fruits, vegetables, and other “wild food” around the city.
I walk and bike a lot around my neighborhood, and often come across trees that are so laden with fruit that they droop across the street, littering the pavement and sidewalk with overly ripe little bombs. I have contemplated doing a little harvesting but always considered that to be stealing. It’s someone else’s tree after all.
But then this whole “urban foraging” idea came to light. In fact, there’s a Google map for it in Boise, charting out delicacies that can be found all over town. But the sound of my mom’s voice is in my head…”Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.”
So, I wonder – when is urban foraging stealing?
I love blackberries. Like REALLY love blackberries and there is this huge blackberry bush on a road I cycle on all the time. Year after year I have admired them. This year intoxicated by the idea of urban foraging, I stopped one morning… just to sample a few. Before I knew it my hands were stained dark reddish purple. I quickly rode off like a kid that had just gotten away with something, feeling more than a little guilty. But shortly thereafter, their sweetness overtook my guilt and I returned with a box and picked as many as I could reach. It’s a busy road and with each passing car, I felt like at any moment I was going to get busted by the blackberry police. Or worse…the owner of the property.
But that begs the question, who does own these? They are on the side of a highway, seemingly in the easement. Does that mean they are ripe for the taking?
I like to explore the alleys of my neighborhood (there are lots of interesting things to look at in the alleys afterall) and there is an apricot tree that hangs heavy over the fence, rotten fruit strewn around the ground. Apricots are definitely on my list of summer fruit favorites (although let’s be honest…which summer fruit isn’t?) and so I stand there and ponder. Fair game to take them since obviously the owners aren’t harvesting or because I just used the word “owner” does that denote that indeed they intrinsically belonged to someone else? Are they “wild food” if they are in someone else’s yard?
My parents have gleaned potatoes and onions out of neighbor’s fields for as long as I can remember, albeit certainly with the farmer’s permission because that’s how they roll. Potatoes and onions that otherwise would have rotted. Potatoes and onions that easily fed our family with extras, to give to others, all winter long.
I refer back to the definition that kicked this all off. That of “reclaiming wasted food”. It sounds valiant. Honorable. Or maybe it’s just the way I justify the bowl of apricots on the kitchen counter.