A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
My sister has this belief that if she and I were lost in the woods, I would know what to do and eat to survive. She is mistaken in that, as the most I’d be able to do is identify the wild animals we would see, and really, how helpful would that be? This book, however, is by someone who really would know what to eat in such a situation. But don’t think that the author is some wild-eyed survivalist, instead, she’s a down-to-earth person with an interest in plants and nutrition, who has been blogging about this topic for years at First Ways .
Her premise is that everyone has access to edible plants, even in the middle of a city. She is based in Portland, Oregon, a city near the northwest edge of the U.S. which has been dealing with rivers polluted from industry and nuclear waste since the 1950’s. Lerner knew that Portland once supported one of the largest populations of native Americans(First Peoples) on the North American continent and refused to believe that all of nature’s bounty had been wiped out. So with her dog Petunia, a chihuahua mix she began exploring the town for weeds, berries and fruit trees. Even things like roots, stems and flowers are edible on the right plants. On a dare from an editor, she tried living a week solely on wild food, but failed due to lack of preparedness. A later attempt, armed with more knowledge and planning succeeded, and she continues to greatly supplement her diet with wild plants, along with making herbal medicine.
Along with her personal adventures, she talked to botanists and biologists, as one would expect, but also archeologists, professors of neuroscience and medical historians. The latter helped show connections and attitudes towards plants in various cultures, as well as in modern vs. preindustrialized eras. She touches on dumpster diving, experiences with psychedelic plants from Peru and evidence of communication among plants.
She presents studies showing trees in urban areas not only improve air quality, but reduce crime. And surprising data proving that there is an income strata of plants in neighborhoods: fruit trees in inner cities, conifers(pines) on working class streets and oaks in affluent suburbs. There was also the troubling news that pesticide use is up in residential areas, even among people who are otherwise environmentally active, which stems from peer pressure from neighbors to have lawns resembling golf courses. One of the most interesting parts of the book is when she visits Cathlapotle, an archeological dig at a Chinook village which had existed before 1830’s, which had underground storage sites for enough food to support the entire village, all of it gathered from nature.
Lerner named her chapters with flashes of humor, two of my favorites was ‘Squirrel Wisdom’ and ‘The Way of The Raccoon’. I also liked how each page number had a drawing of a dandelion next to it. These little touches added to the mood of the book, which was appreciated. So though I still lack the confidence that I could survive on wild foods, I learned a considerable amount reading this intriguing book. If nothing else, it’s made me see a different potential in the natural world around me.
Lyons Press 2013 215 pp. ISBN 978-0-7627-8062-4