Modern Foraging in the Urban Jungle
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over millions of years, humans developed the ability to identify which foods were nourishing, and which foods would quickly make them sick, using a combination of sight, touch, smell and taste, coupled with knowledge passed down through the generations.

Unfortunately, in our modern society, these skills have largely been lost, and if your average person were to find themselves stranded in the wilderness, they would more than likely quickly find themselves either poisoned or starving!

Although it is unlikely that most people will ever need these skills in the wild, this does not mean that you are safe from dangerous food stuffs. The modern forager has to navigate an equally, if not more challenging environment – The supermarket!

Generally speaking, in the wild, foods that are beneficial for us will look, smell and taste good – Think of the smell of fresh strawberries and blackberries. Food that is bad, or rotten will look and smell awful, to the point of making us feel physically ill just at the thought of it.

Modern science, however, through the use of artificial flavours, colours and fillers, has given manufacturers the ability to make anything look, taste and smell delicious, regardless of what it actually contains. We can no longer rely on our sense of taste and smell to judge whether a food is good or bad for us. On the contrary, some of the most delicious foods, are the most damaging to health!

We need a new set of rules by which to forage for our sustenance. The following are some top tips when hunting and gathering for your clan in the perilous aisles of the ubiquitous supermarket:

  1. Food should come from a field, not a factory

If you cannot recognise the food as a bit of an animal or part of a plant, don’t eat it. Think roots or eye balls: if the food never had either, don’t touch it!

  1. If it comes in a box, or has a food label, its not food

I could go into a lengthy explanation of how to read food labels, what’s wrong with the Government RDAs, how manufactures manipulate the laws by adjusting portion sizes etc, and using misleading ingredient names, but there’s little point, as you’ll soon find your new found label deciphering skills redundant when you realise that every single product in the supermarket that has one is not actually food!

  1. If it says “healthy” on the label, its almost certainly very bad for you

Sad, but true.

  1. If the use by date is more than a week away, don’t touch it

If fungus and bacteria will not go near it, then you probably shouldn’t either!

  1. Beware of vague claims on animal products

Happy eggs, traditionally reared, freedom foods and even free range mean relatively little, other than the animal was spared the most debased level of cruelty.

Even the organic certification does not guarantee quality meat – Organic beef could have been fed organic grains which will still result in nutritionally inferior meat.

When selecting Beef, make sure its Grass Fed. Pork should be pastured, or outdoor reared. Chickens organic or free range, not corn fed or vegetarian(I kid you not!) Often your best bet in the supermarket for meat in terms of price and availability is hill grazed British Lamb (though often all you’ll find is New Zealand Lamb, the mind boggles!).

Taking all these rules into consideration, on your next visit to the supermarket it will quickly become apparent that despite its vast size, and typical availability of around 50,000 products, there is actually very little that can be considered as food fit for human consumption.

Lets check out your skills, see if you can tell which of these is actually food:

Weight Watchers Beef and Red Wine Cacerole

An apple

Your prize? Escape from the chronic diseases of civilisation, give yourself a pat on the back.

This all raises the question, why go to the supermarket at all?

The supposed advantage of supermarkets are that they will save you time and money – You can do all your shopping in one place, and get it at a low price. The truth is though, that if you eat real food, the supermarket will more than likely cost you more of both!

Time –

Between queueing for the car park if you have to drive, navigating the walking dead in the aisles to get to the far end of the vast swathes of processed junk to some actual food hidden at the back (supermarkets always follow the same layout), before queueing again at the checkout (giving you time to note the correlation between the mental and physical health of the people with trolleys full of “food” and “health” products), and then queueing to get out of the car park, chances are you could have popped into the local butchers, fish mongers and grocers, had a friendly chat with each of them, and got some cooking tips to boot, in less time. Even if it does take you the same time, or slightly longer, it will certainly be a more pleasurable experience.

Alternatively, if you live in what has become termed a “food desert”, where the only real food are a bunch of bananas and some wrinkly peppers, why not get a meat box and a veg box delivered? Do the maths and you’ll likely find you can get better quality produce delivered at a cheaper price, particularly when you factor in petrol costs.

Money –

Supermarkets are not cheap. They create the illusion of value, by selling what are termed “loss leaders”. Common items such as bread, milk and alcohol with which people are familiar with the prices are sold at a loss. This loss is recouped by a huge mark up on the food products which cost virtually nothing to produce, transport and store.

Actual food (i.e. meat, vegetables and fruit) are a pain for supermarkets, as they cost a lot more not only to produce, but to transport and store, and have a much shorter shelf life. As a consequence, they are typically very expensive. By using confusing pricing strategies however (pricing some items per lb, some per kg, some per 100g, others per item) this fact is hidden. Can you tell me how much you last paid for apples?

Through choosing locally sourced, fresh produce that is in season, you cut down the costs of production, transportation and storage, thereby saving money. If you can walk or cycle to a local store, or have it delivered to your door, you will save money on petrol, which at current prices could be a considerably saving!

An added benefit, is that the money you are spending will be going back into the local economy, rather than going into the coffers of vast multi-conglomerates, and you will be reducing your environmental impact.

So, if you do go down to the supermarket today, don’t forget to follow the rules, or even better, don’t go to the supermarket at all!

Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post of interest. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below, or feel free to tweet me at @Simon_Whyatt

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