Most health experts would encourage you to eat a ‘varied’ diet, but this can be hard in the modern world where the food that is cultivated for agriculture is much less diverse than what is naturally available. This is one of the most attractive aspects of foraging. Nature’s menu is vast and it serves something different all year round. From my perspective, with a focus on booze from botanicals, it offers almost endless combinations and a chance to showcase new and forgotten flavours.
If new flavours to discover are not enough to turn you on to foraging, how about the fact that it’s an innate, natural way of life and conduit to an enriching and vital connection with the land. Historically, communities have always foraged and hunted together it’s comparatively much more recently that our diet has instead become reliant on produce from modern agricultural methods. If you forage responsibly and mindfully, you are perfectly poised to learn to effectively care for the land, the system encourages participation and promotes environmental health. With a healthy culture to support it, even if entire communities were forage in this manner the environmental impact would be minimal, if not positive, with enough care and understanding. (http://www.the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/conservation-articles/358-conservation-and-wild-food-foraging & http://wildwalks-southwest.co.uk/blog/what-would-happen-if-everybody-foraged/) This is evidenced in the success of Commons, the problems arise when food systems are separated from communities and people, becoming solely about extracting resources most efficiently for the greatest profit. In a global market, this leads to a destructive ‘race to the bottom’, eventually destroying the land and food source, thus extinguishing a common resource for all.
Foraging at the most basic level could widen our diet while reducing our reliance on the handful of domesticated food species in modern agriculture (incidentally, one of the largest industries for greenhouse emissions). More optimistically, foraging offers a conduit to restore humanities vital connection with the natural world. For far too long humans have treated the planet and all its resources as a limitless ocean to draw upon. Somehow sitting apart from the natural order and the cycles that govern it, when in fact humans are very much a part of that system, as reliant upon it as any other species for survival. The difference is that we have the capacity to consciously understand and improve the health and resilience of our environment. To live sustainably, prevent or mitigate climate change and to do so with our social conscience intact, but we have become too disconnected from nature and comfortable in our consumerism to act.
Learning to become nature’s guardians and gardeners, restoring the vital connection and completing the cycle of modern food systems is the route to progress. Resources must be returned to the land at a rate that matches their removal, biodiversity, resilience, nutrition, soil and micorrhizal fungi health should become priorities for food systems alongside traditional metrics like yield, cost and value. If tasting a spirit made by Slake, whether it’s flavoured with wild foraged Rosehip or Elderflower, opens your eyes to foraging, spending more time in nature, engaging with our environment or protecting it for future generations, I shall personally count it as a huge success.
Another reason to forage, particularly pertinent in the world of booze, is a lovely concept of French origin, terroir, which is simply that a locality or region has it’s own natural identity. That will separate produce grown or made there from that of any other area. There are numerous reasons for this, but the concept has been applied to many different types of producers and is particularly prevelant in brewing and winemaking. The sour ‘Lambic’ beers from Pajottenland in Belgium wouldn’t taste the same if you made them somewhere else because the natural yeasts and bacteria responsible for their flavour profile would be entirely different and champagne can only be known as such if it comes from the region of the same name in the North East of France.
With this in mind, I am creating a range of spirits that exemplify the terroir of the South Downs, of Sussex and the Sea. Like our original seasonal sipping Gin. Every habitat, every region has it’s own flora to chose from and getting the best out of these special ingredients requires care and experimentation. I believe that refinement of process and understanding and utilising aspects of ‘terroir’ are the keys to making unique and exciting spirits.