Now that we have dealt with the ethical nature of maintaining your own health and wellbeing, we can move to the question of how to ethically harvest your choice edible from the forest while mitigating the damage and maintaining the wellbeing of the species or the overall ecosystem. Some of the major principles represent a philosophy and perspective of the world. There are obvious varying perspectives of these ethics about how human beings interact with their environment, and we are all stuck with each other so we have to deal with varying systems of ethics on a daily basis.
Foraging is the act of identifying, harvesting and preparing food that comes from wild places. The first question that comes to mind about whether to take something out, what is the benefit to me vs. the harm to the environment. I am not encountering and describing foraging as a survival skill to find food when none other is available. There is good reason that hunters and foragers underwent the agricultural revolution! Foraging for me is about enriching your food experience. It is about adding something peculiar, unique, delicious and abundant to your nourishment experience!
A perfect example for me is my mushroom coffee that I happen to be enjoying right now. I like to drink my coffee in the afternoon, I drink black Turkish coffee and I always add powdered polypore mushroom mix. This mix of polypore mushrooms is known for it's anti-tumor properties and it adds a hint of earthy taste to the bitter coffee. My process for that was to harvest two types of polypore mushroom, resinous polypore and chicken of the woods, dry them and powder them for my preparation. The added excitement of adding something that I foraged to my afternoon coffee is where I find the joy of foraging.
After properly identifying, encountering a suitable specimen and deciding you are going to harvest, the question then becomes should you?!? The next steps should be a sort of decision tree based upon your knowledge and observation.
Always make sure that your food is not either endangered or a species of concern. All of the examples that I will present in this blog will be species of least concern. These are mostly abundant edible plants and mushrooms.
Always make sure you leave a majority of your find behind. Never harvest the last of any find, this is dangerous for the eco-system and repeated offenses will eliminate the species from the target area indefinitely! You should always plan for at least one other forager coming after you and should leave enough not only for others, but for others and for there to be leftover for natural propagation reasons. It has generally been my experience that even when you harvest what seems to be a small amount, it always ends up being enough for me, my family and guests. (Think about how much food waste we produce anyways) Better in nature than in the compost.
Encounter the forest as a partner and not a resource. I think this is where the world-view comes in. The world's nature has an endless commodity chain that fuels capitalist supply chains and industries. Nature is obviously generally regarded as a resource. Transforming wild areas to farmland, factories and expansion of human settlement have been wrecking the planet at an exponential rate as is widely known and documented. This represents a separation and superiority of human over nature. Although that is that dominant view, we are inextricably a part of nature and have the ability and have always had the ability to hold respect for the great abundance that nature endlessly provides. When we take food from the forest, we can give the proper respect to what is foraged and show gratitude for the wonders of nature that sustain us.
Legal Matters: Please educate yourself about local laws regarding foraging. Some places foraging may be allowed such as parks or forests but may not be permitted in nature reserves. Permits may be required. Never forage on private property without permission, but by all means ASK FOR PERMISSION! When going for a forage, know before you go.
As foraging enters the collective consciousness, culture may be developed and some unknown or ethical grey areas may be clearer. In the meantime, foragers can set the tone and establish a set of principles that guide like the compass and the north star. I would be happy to receive input about what you think is essential to foraging ethically.