For 90,000 years, and even to this day, non-agrarian cultures and societies have been known as and referred to as ‘hunters and gatherers.”   

However, during the Middle Ages, Feudalism added a different term, one specific to their culture, society and time…for a very specific type of collector/gatherer.

It helps to remember that during the feudal era, a few people held rein and control over the larger population and land.

The ‘landed gentry’ determined and controlled the fate of the “serfs and their families by extension” who were aligned under their particular household.  Most serfs worked their ‘Lord’s” land, the fortunate few who were considered intelligent enough were educated; if handy, could hope to be trained in a craft, and the “others” were relegated to the role of collecting “forage” for the animals.  ; Certainly, never to be trusted even to collect food for the household.  In this class system, the “others” were the European equivalent to an “untouchable.”

Although, it may now sound romantic, to be a forager…the shadow hangs on.

The connotation, even in Medieval times, was one of “poverty-stricken outcasts doomed to sustain themselves by scratching out a meager existence from what they could find growing in the woods, often on other people’s property” That would have made them a poacher and/or thief or, at the very least…a villein (someone who had escaped the serf situation and was waiting for the 1 year prescribed period to elapse for their freedom).  And, any of those other terms would still warrant and need closer examination at some later time.  For now, it is the word “forager” that needs closer scrutiny.  Please, take the time…look these words, terms, and phrases up and discover why there are those of us who take offense.  They still have the same reference point.

Forage and forager are both perfectly good words WHEN used in the proper place and context.  Out of context…NO!

When perfectly good people are ‘pressed’ to explain their understanding of what this word/term means, they will usually start with

Someone who collects wild foods;

Not punching a time clock, like the rest of us;

Someone living outside the normal economic system;

Someone who cannot or will not conform to society;

Can’t hold a regular job;

Doesn’t handle authority figures well.

Well, we do see where this is heading and suddenly that “perfectly good word” with all its warm, fuzzy and daydream qualities, isn’t really held in much respect and has started down the rather slippery slope of disapproval.  And, all it took was a very slight scratching at the thin veneer of idealism.  And, there is revealed the perception! 

Hunters and poachers may both kill game…but the attitude is very different, both in perception and respect. 

Chefs and cooks both work with the preparation of food…but the attitude is very different, both in skill, perception and respect.

See the Spring Issue of the Art of Eating 2010, to see how the collectors are all lumped together without clear distinctions being drawn between to true collectors, gatherers, wildcrafters and “foragers” who have a …revolving door with drugs and prison.  That article’s price…a very long dear friendship.


Les likes to explain, carefully, to the uninitiated, that we are all…collectors, chefs, and patrons…responsible for the woods and what is left behind.  And, graphically…it often equates to approximately $20/pound between a forager and a wildcrafter.

How quick is everyone, educated/uneducated, initiated and non, to see or hear of an area where overharvesting has threatened a plant population…to exclaim…that it was at the hands of “foragers.” Heavens to Mergatroid, here’s that “perfectly good word” again…  And, that is exactly part of our argument…a “forager” is someone with no attachment to the specific plants, habitats, and/or their future existence…a very dumb, uninformed individual is probably to blame.  But, the blame does not and should not stop there!

It extends to the cooks/chefs, who are too busy cutting the bottom line to develop an understanding of how the food was brought to them…was it ethically or sustainably harvested, and/or will the collector/wildcrafter receive fair wage or compensation; and, to the dining patrons who are ever more willing to have an expanded pallet for the least possible price and effort.

So, all in this chain are guilty and complicate!

The “foragers” for not demanding fair compensation for their knowledge, skill and stewardship, so they would not even consider overharvesting.

The “chefs/cooks” who do not educate themselves into the supply and techniques used to obtain these “original foods” and, then, be willing to pay appropriately and charge the clientele accordingly.

And, finally—you, the paying public, content to eat and dine well on, literally, the fruits and labor of others without understanding more than your comfort zone and niceties.

In the end, it is about respect!