Practicing Homelessness

by Green Deane

in Blog

There are less Christmas parties this year than in the past, with economic conditions reducing the usual yuletide cheer. Still, there are some traditions. Former employees of a company I used to work for meet annually for a seasonal get-together. It’s a time to catch up, confirm that nearly everyone is still unemployed, and promise to keep in touch.

I was chatting with eligible Hillary, who, if I were half my age, would not be safe. As usual the topic came around to activity with wildl edible plants, and other things, too.

What you’re doing,” she said, “is practicing to be homeless.”

Her comment took me by surprise and intrigued me. While not true in reality — a least not yet — it was an astute observation. On reflection, my answer would be both yes and no. If I were homeless now I think I could find tastier and better food in the evening dumpster behind a restaurant than in the woods across the road. So there are two kinds of homelessness to consider, being homeless while society is functioning, and being homeless when it is not functioning. In fact, some 35 years ago I knew a bum who basically lived off restaurant toss outs. His name was Major, and he got all his tobacco needs from cannibalizing cigarette butts tossed away in ash trays.

If Hillary was thinking about no society then she was quite right. Without intending so I am practicing to be homeless, but not foodless. There is no doubt I — or you — could live off wild foods, especially if we toss in a fish, bird or rat fairly often, though I suspect cat and dog would be the more common meat. It would not be a diet of choice, and would only vary by the season rather than by the meal. If you dig up a 20 pound yam it has to be eaten or preserved. But, it is doable.

On more reflection, foraging food is a matter of degrees. A depression could reduce the number of restaurants with food to throw a way, and the competition for any scraps that made it to the dumpster could be intense, if they got to the dumpster. So perhaps foraging is a spectrum, the restaurant dumpster on one end and the woods on the other. More to the point: If Hillary had made her comment five years ago, it would have sounded silly. Today it doesn’t.

I’ve never really worried about food. A tent over my head has always been the more pressing issue. Perhaps it is time to reconsider both.

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