So… June is over but before I go get some pork belly tacos and horchata I wanted to share some thoughts and experiences that Stephen and I had over the past month.
We made the decision to start this challenge with only a few days to spare and literally nothing prepped in the freezer or the garden. This dictated the theme for the month of basically having to go day to day. I loved this as a starting point because it forced us to immediately get to work in our research and in the woods. Stephen and I both hunt and fish regularly so I was never concerned about protein. However, we had very limited knowledge regarding wild edibles. We quickly found an awesome resource in Green Deane and his website and Youtube channel “Eat the Weeds“. In our first blind forage trip, we found blackberries, blueberries, swamp cabbage, and saw palmetto. Quickly after we started regularly eating sword fern tubers, Spanish needle, unripe bananas, and smilax. As we became familiar with the season and where to find edibles we began noticing more stuff that was on the brink of being ready, primarily wild muscadines and citrus.
The challenge was a month of only eating food that we foraged, hunted, or caught. We were allowed limited ingredients only for seasoning and couldn’t use anything that added substance to a meal. For example, you can’t add store bought tomatoes to a Spanish needle salad. We had a couple fruitful spearfishing trips at the beginning of the month which gave us all the fish we needed. However, for the sake of the challenge and to keep it interesting, we set out to find alternate sources of protein. This found us eating Muscovy ducks, wild rabbits, and even iguanas. Squirrels, hogs, and snakes were high on the want list but kept their distance from us this month.
One of the most interesting things I noticed this month were people’s reactions when they heard what we were doing. I didn’t think it would be that interesting of a challenge to onlookers and I surely didn’t expect the amount of feedback and followers that we got. Day one was really tough and I actually considered calling it then. I had a headache and I wanted cheese. As I sat there on the on the first night debating calling Stephen and asking him if he wanted to go get some pulled pork my phone started going off with people saying they were intrigued by what we were doing and were excited to follow along. I felt like I owed it to them to stick it out. I’m glad I did. Not as numerous but much more vocal were those who made it a point to tell me how stupid they thought it was. People were asking why I just don’t go to the store. I had people telling me I was going to get sick and poisoned and it’s not safe to eat wild plants. It was pretty crazy, actually. My thought was, “Why do you even care about this?”. It kept us driven, though. It’s sad to me that people think that the idea of living off the land is a pointless endeavor. It’s sad to me that they think that processed food, mistreated meat full of hormones and steroids, and veggies laced with pesticides and preservatives are better options. Whether you slap the “organic” label on it or not, if you bought from someone other than the farmer or the fisherman then it’s most likely crap. Multiple degrees of separation between you and the source of your food is never ideal. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll get down on some breakfast burritos and pizza. I’ll even opt for “healthier” choice sometimes. I’m not going to lie to myself and others, though, by saying that straight from the woods and the water isn’t best.
The heart behind this was not to do some weird survival challenge or to prove something to anyone watching. The reason we did this was to prove to ourselves that we can. We’re a people who are so remarkably dependent in every aspect of our lives. I wanted to grasp the aspect of sustaining life through nutrition, take it out of the hands of the grocers, and put it back in my own. Stephen and I just proved to ourselves that we can go a month without spending a penny on food and survive. Not only survive but remain content, completely functional, and actually healthier by the end of it. Throughout the course of the month, I found that I never once felt “starving” and rarely was I hungry to the point of distraction. On top of that I generally just felt good. I slept great and was always rested. I never felt tired or sluggish and mentally I felt good. I lost over 25lbs this month. I meant to work out but I forgot. I bet if I was disciplined in the gym that number would have been a lot higher.
We learned that although something is edible it doesn’t necessarily taste good. And although we stayed alive and healthy, there were times in the woods where we’d say, “That was disgusting.” Here are some of the regular wild edible of our diet:
–Spanish Needle: This comprised about 85% of my greens over the past month. It’s gross. It’s healthy but it’s just not good. Often I would put it on my plate to take a picture and then ball it up and eat it as fast as I could. The good thing about Spanish needle aside from being good for you is that it is everywhere. I found it in the woods and in my yard. I found it in my neighbor’s yard and in my neighbor’s neighbor’s yard.
–Sword fern tubers: The inside is the taste and texture of water chestnuts but they have a tough, thick skin that tastes like dirt. Boiling them and pickling them made them better to eat. Easily accessible.
–Smilax: Smilax is excellent. It tastes like raw green beans. It doesn’t yield much and takes work but I starting focusing in on smilax a lot towards the end of the month. It’s a vine and grows on bushes, fences, and trees. Easily accessible.
–Pennywort: I used to make money killing dollarweed. It’s everywhere and people hate it but that’s because they haven’t eaten it. It’s a little bitter but not bad to eat. It was regularly eaten as we foraged and was added often to salads. Easily accessible.
-Blueberries and Blackberries: These were an awesome addition. They were easy to find as well but are all but gone now.
The way we began finding wild edibles was by researching what is available now and then going out and looking. The process of foraging became a hunt and it was awesome. It was very rewarding when we’d find a new species that we set out specifically to find. The white whale of edibles that we never found was wild yams. We put in the time, too. We’ll find them eventually but some sweet potato fries would have been a great addition to the month.
In closing, this month was an eye opener to me. I finished encouraged at the possibilities of what is wild and available. I learned that we are designed to eat based on the seasons and that everything you need is readily available if you are willing to put in a little effort. I learned that, like anything really worth doing, hunting, fishing, and foraging take time and are not always fruitful but are extremely rewarding. I learned many new skills that I’ve already been passing along to my kids. I learned that not everybody likes to be confined to the box of process that is shoved down our throats by the society around us. There is no such thing as doing something because “that’s just how or why we do it”. That truth is relevant in the way we eat and the means by which we acquire our food.
We are doing the challenge again in August. This time we are having friends from around the world join us. We will be planning local meet ups/ foraging trips/and bartering days. We also have a month to prepare. I will be writing a post in the next couple days with more detail and I’d like to encourage you to consider joining us. We have some really cool stuff planned for the month of August and beyond. During this month we will be doing regular features on what to be looking for locally here in Florida during the next couple months. We will also feature info that we receive from our friends around the country and around the world. Keep an eye out for that post, and until that day comes, keep your ear to the grindstone.
Thanks for an awesome first challenge!