Foraging Produce vs Shopping at the Grocery Store

Grapes, passionfruit, and almonds, as well
as the first lemon of the season.
All picked today within 2 hours.
I love foraging for foods to nourish my family. It's how I fill our refrigerator and cupboard with fruits, veggies, and nuts all year long. I forage so much, that I actually jokingly refer to the "great outdoors" as my "grocery store". But it really is not. If anyone tries to make you think that foraging is just like grocery shopping, they're pulling a fast one on you.
Foraging and grocery shopping have one thing in common. They both provide you and your family with food. But, they're so different from each other in so many ways. As I was foraging all the food today in the picture at the right, it hit me just how different supermarket sh

How does foraging differ from grocery shopping? Let me count the ways.

Foraging vs Grocery Shopping

Treasure Hunting. While its always feels great to scout out a good bargain in the store, that is simply incomparable to the thrill of the hunt that you get with foraging. Today I was hunting in the bushes with my kids for the passion fruit that fell into it. Picking up plants, looking underneath, trying to spot that elusive passion fruit. First my son had a go and came back with all 4 large pockets in his pants stuffed to the brim with passion fruit, saying there were no more. Then I went with him, rifling through the miniature forest in search of those yummy fruit, and came back with a shopping bag full. Then, on a whim, we made another sweep, and discovered fruit after fruit after fruit that we missed the first time around. We hit the mother lode! It truly was like finding a treasure.
My friend Butter is an avid edible mushroom collector, and she'll regale you with tales of her quests to find porcini mushrooms, falling down the mountain in search of her treasures, and the thrill of the hunt. Any regular forager can share the feeling of intense excitement you get when you spot something edible that you weren't expecting to come across, especially when that is something extra special, extra rare, or where you least expected to find it.
Grocery shopping- takes all the thrill out of it!

Lack of Perfection. Grocery shopping leaves you with a feeling that all oranges look the same, all peaches look the same, all tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers have the same vibrant colors and perfect look. In nature, 'tain't so. The only way supermarkets are able to get their produce looking perfect are with pesticides, food dyes, wax, etc... and they probably have a bunch of other tricks up their sleeves that I don't know about.
In reality, some plants have fruit that are misshapen.Not all produce, even on the same plant, ripens at the same time. You see this cluster of organic grapes, picked by myself and the kids today? Some are beautiful and perfect. Others are overripe and popped open, squirting juice everywhere. Other grapes have been pecked by birds, and others have shriveled up to become raisins. And yet others have been eaten by bugs.
People, this is what real food looks like. Unaltered. As nature made it. And these are the most delicious grapes I've ever tasted. Who cares if they don't look perfect enough to win a blue ribbon at the country fair? They certainly win a blue ribbon for health, taste, and price.
(For the record, on all grape vines I've seen, even within the same cluster of grapes, some are ripe before the others, and you either have clusters like this with some overripe and the rest fine, or you have some perfectly ripe and the rest sour and unripe. How on earth do the grapes at the grocery store all ripen at the same pace on the same cluster? Anyone know? It just seems very unnatural to me.)

Produce Will Have Bugs. Bugs are found in nature. They enjoy eating produce just like you or I. If bugs don't want to eat plant, you have to wonder to yourself "What is wrong with this plant that even the bugs don't want it?" And if the bugs don't want it, is it actually safe for me to eat it? If you look at it that way, by bugs deciding to eat a plant, you know that the plant is good, strong, and healthy and probably very delicious as well.
In fact, one of the rules of foraging is if you see a plant or group of plants completely devoid of bugs, you should be very, very wary, because if the bugs don't want it, there's something very wrong with it.
So, what do you do? You look over the food carefully. You wash it off well, possibly soaking and agitating it in soapy water and then removing all the bugs. And the parts that are still buggy, you either remove completely, or cut out the bug eaten parts.
No, its not the easiest way to eat foods. But hey, there very often are bugs in supermarket produce as well. And this way, you at least aren't getting pesticides with your produce the way you would in the supermarket.

Your Food is Naturally Organic and Healthy. You don't need any special certification that may or may not mean something. (I know that locally, the rules about organic labeling are very lax, and very often even organic produce ends up having pesticides in it.) Your food is as nature/God made it. Sans chemicals. Grown on lands that weren't depleted of all their nutrients by overharvesting and commercial growing. Your food is as healthy as they come, more full of nutrients than anything you can buy in the store.
Speaking of which...

Your Food is Fresh, Fresh, Fresh. When you see food in the grocery store, you have no clue how long ago it was picked. Each day that fresh produce sits there, it looses more and more of its nutrition. A food that is sitting around weeks or even months before being sold to you and then consumed is going to have a fraction of the nutrition of something that was picked that day, or even a few days prior. When foraging for produce, you know exactly when that food was picked, and are likely consuming it much more immediately after picking than you would if it was purchased in a grocery store.

You Will Get Dirty, Pricked, Scratched, Etc... Produce shopping at the grocery store is easy. Pick up a food, put it in your cart, pay for it. Not like foraging at all. When foraging, I've gotten my arms pricked, my fingers and legs covered in thorns, gotten scratched by branches and fence posts, and many other things. I also usually come back with my hands and arms and sometimes clothing decidedly filthy. But hey, that's part of the experience.

You Eat By Nature, Not By Your Whims. Its easy to just pick up a bunch of grapes in the grocery store in the middle of November, or some butternut squash in the heat of July, if you're willing to pay the price. So long as you're willing to pay for it, you can pretty much get whatever it is that you want, whenever it is that you want.
Not so with foraging. When you forage, you're forced to eat seasonally (aside for foods that you preserved). When food grows and ripens, that's when you eat it. Not when the mood strikes you. This may be "less convenient" for someone accustomed to eating according to their whims, but its how it was intended to be according to natural laws. Summer ripening foods are better for your system to eat during the summer, and cold weather crops are extra good for your body during the chillier seasons.

You're Pressed For Time. Shopping for groceries can be done 7 days a week, 24 hours a day (at least in some stores), and you can shop whenever its convenient for you. With foraging, if you wait until its convenient, you may miss your chance entirely. Foods might ripen and fall off the tree and rot. Other things will shrivel up and die or mature to the point of inedibility. Foraging needs to be done when the food is ready, not just when its convenient for you to do it, or you may entirely miss that years' season of a certain crop. Being in my beginning stages of pregnancy during the late spring and early summer, I actually missed out on harvesting quite a few things that came in and out of season when I was too sick to my stomach to do anything about it. You also can't just forage whenever you want. You need good weather, and daylight as well. No running out to go "shop in the great outdoors" at 9 pm like you could at the supermarket.

You'll Probably Get Stares. Seriously. People wonder why anyone would bother to pick foods instead of buying them. They may glance at you occasionally, trying not to be obvious about it, or they may stare at you, watching what you do. They may snicker at your oddness, and may even yell at you for "stealing" when you know that what you're doing is totally fine and legal. Foraging is not something done by the masses, and people might look at you like a country bumpkin for doing so. Be prepared to come back with an answer for them if you want, or at least feel confident that what you're doing is totally fine, legit, and terrific.

Foraging is Hard Work. As I picked all those grapes today, I was standing there in the heat, sun beating down on me. I picked each cluster, carried it over to my bucket of grapes, then went back to pick some more. I then lugged home the heavy containers of grapes. Other times I've foraged carob and that involved rummaging on the ground, knocking a tree with a broomstick, and trying to avoid getting hit in the face with the falling missiles. Once you get home, because the food isn't perfect, and is often dirty, it needs to be cleaned very well and sorted out. Doing a lot of foraging is great, because of all the free food, but I won't kid you- it can be exhausting. I prefer doing just a little bit of foraging each day instead of a massive amount at once, because seriously, it gets you wiped out, especially when you do it in warm weather.

Foraging is Amazing, an Experience. Physical labor can be exhausting, but it brings along with it a feeling of satisfaction. When I see how many pounds of fruit I got in just a short amount of time, it fills me with a healthy dose of pride, a feeling of accomplishment. It makes me feel more connected to my food, to nature's cycle of growth, to the world around me. It invigorates me as a person, the knowledge that I'm learning to be more self sufficient.
If I suddenly became very rich, and was able to get as much organic produce as I wanted from the grocery store, without needing to worry about cost, I'd probably still forage. Foraging is just that valuable and enjoyable of an experience. Its great to be able to see how food grows and to be able to be involved all the way from bringing it in from the field to serving the food on your table.

Do you ever forage? How do you feel foraging is different than shopping at the grocery store? Anything you think I missed on my list? Which do you prefer- foraging or grocery shopping? What is your favorite part of foraging? What is your favorite food to forage?
For those of you non foragers out there, does this list encourage you to want to forage, or dissuade you from wanting to forage? 

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Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I forage almost every day. I absolutely love doing it. We started while I was pregnant. It was a way to keep me active and something I could teach my husband so that he could feel needed at a time when there was not much he could do for me.

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