Foraging: Not Insane, Useless, or Impossible
From time to time, I've suggested foraging — gathering food from the wild — as a technique for getting by in hard times. Whenever I do, people mock the idea. "It's the twenty-first century! There's no way to get enough food like that." They're missing the point. (See also: Getting by Without a Job part 4 — Get Free Stuff)
Calories Are Cheap
First of all, the point of foraging is not to provide all the calories you need to survive — that would be tough. But, calories are cheap at the grocery store. The problem is turning those cheap calories into a healthy diet.
If you make a diet out of the cheapest calories you can find in the supermarket, you're going to be missing out on nutrition, taste, and variety. And as a way to provide those things, foraging is perfect.
Nature's Food Is Bountiful — and Delicious
Second, they're just flat out wrong. There's a lot of food to be found in the wild, even in relatively urbanized areas. Edible weeds like lambsquarter, dandelion, and purslane grow right in your (or your park's) lawn along with a lot of edible flowers — dandelions again, violets, bee balm, chicory, chives... Larger edible plants like cattails and Jerusalem artichoke grow only a few steps further into the wild.
Of course, if you actually get out into the woods and fields, there's even more.
And it's not just "weird" foods that can be gathered from the wild. It's easy to find perfectly ordinary fruits and nuts — grapes, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, persimmons, hickory nuts, walnuts — growing wild.
My mom was always interested in foraging. I remember any number of meals that she prepared that featured food gathered from the wild, usually inspired by the books of Euell Gibbons.
No article about foraging would be complete without a few warnings. Don't eat mushrooms that you find in the wild unless you've learned about the local mushrooms from someone who's gathered and eaten them for a long time. Avoid gathering food that might have been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. Don't eat plants gathered from right along roadsides. There are a lot of good books on gathering wild foods, and a good book will guide you well enough on any topic except mushrooms.
Unless you're hunting or fishing, you'll only occasionally find your main dish in the wild — but, as I said above, that's not the point. If you've bought the cheapest lettuce you can get from the grocery store, you can make your salad a lot more interesting and nutritious by adding a handful of purslane. Extend your spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, or kale by cooking it up with some garlic mustard. If you can't afford desert, a handful of wild strawberries will serve the purpose.
You can eat really cheaply, if you need to — or if you simply want to, because there are other things you want to spend your money on besides food. And then — when you're eating the cheapest healthy diet you can put together at the grocery store — is when a bit of foraging can make a huge difference in the quality of your diet.