Forager's Notebook: Defining Our Heritage
"People protect what they love.”
- Jacques Cousteau
This issue’s theme of “Heritage” has been floating around in my head, with no obvious place to land and call it’s home. I was tempted to highlight the food traditions of hunting and gathering natives, but many of those customs aren’t easily applied to the world we live and eat in today. I looked further forward, to the early settlers, but who to choose? British, French, Irish, Italian, Brazilian?
All of these approaches felt lacking, and exclusionary of one group or another, ignoring the fact that New England is inherently and perpetually a melting pot, and so is our food. All of our early settlers foraged and farmed. They learned from the native tribes and each culture also carried in their own customs from the Old World. They really had but one thing in common: necessity. They all made the most of what food was available, because that’s all they had. Once the food was gone, it was gone. This, I believe, is the home, heart, and heritage of New England cuisine.
Some people call this new interest in foraging, small farming, and “localvorism” a food renaissance, but I see it as more of a collective remembering of where we came from and perhaps what we need to get back to: the necessity. With so many rapid advances in gastronomy since the industrial age, maybe we got a little punch drunk knowing that we have access to a literal World’s Fair of food anytime we want. An ideology heavily supported by this new place called the supermarket.
I like to think that the thrill of being able to eat Mangoes all year long is wearing off and we are opening our eyes to a mean global hangover. Efforts across the world are establishing ways to feed us and not our impulses. These efforts will feed our planet and the future generations of people who hope to live on it.
One of my favorite parts of living on this Seacoast is that nowhere else have I seen such a concerted and tangible effort put towards a local foodshed.
The best part? People here are excited about food. Our community’s focus on food feels more like a celebration than a social protest or environmental cause. It feels inclusive, not preachy or competitive, and it feels great. We get to be part of a collective drive to slow down and honor those necessities that conceived our heritage, recognize that those necessities are unchanged, and that our heritage is still only in its formative years.
We are a relatively new nation; this is still the new world. The ways our heritage becomes defined is here and now and in our hands. If we continue to reconnect with our necessities as people: to know our environment, to know our food, to know our neighbors, then we can ensure that the heritage we know and love will persist.
I personally believe that to know and to love are inseparable. I cannot come to know something without, in turn, loving some part of it as well. This is the best way I’ve found for me to contribute here as a forager; to know this community. I’m so glad to be a part of creating this heritage with you all.