Blueberries and venison: The gift of wild foods

Cath and I looked at the ground in surprise.

We had visited this rocky hilltop many times. It was here, some eight years earlier, that I had asked her to marry me.

Photo by Nadia Prigoda-Lee

We had often seen these low bushes clinging to the meager soil. We had never seen them fruiting.

The patch of green leaves at our feet was speckled with clusters of dusty blue. We picked a few ripe berries and savored their sweetness, then picked a few more, dropping them into a plastic grocery bag I happened to have in my fanny pack.

Soon we realized that the entire southern side of the hilltop was thick with blueberries. Thrilled by the unexpected bounty, we loaded the grocery bag with nearly two quarts, hardly making a dent.

But no measure of volume can gauge what we gathered that morning.

From farming done by others, we get the bulk of our calories and nutrition: fruits, vegetables, grains, chickens, and more. From our own gardening, we get a smaller portion of our food—greens, peas, beans, carrots, squash, and the like—plus an invaluable sense of involvement and connection.

From wild food, we get something else.

Whether unsought and unforeseen like that bagful of blueberries, or hunted and hoped for like the chanterelles I seek in the summer woods or the deer who steps out from behind a tree twenty yards from where I crouch in autumn, wild food is not something grown or owned, bought or sold.

It is something given. Something that feeds soul as much as body. A reminder of our oldest, humblest way of eating.

Unlike the hunted animal, remarks Bob Kimber in Living Wild and Domestic, “The animal raised and slaughtered is not a gift. We have earned that food in a different way, and when we eat that animal, we are not accepting a gift as much as we are exercising our property rights.”

To blueberry bush or fallen deer, I am not master, standing over that which is rightfully mine, but supplicant, on my knees, hand outstretched.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Great post. A thoughtful distinction of two very different ways of “gathering.” I know for myself I have a greater appreciation of that which I have gathered myself. Be it with a firearm or bare hands.

  2. Wow, I LOVE the Kimber quote! But I’m sure you knew I would.

    And I’m wildly envious that you have blueberries – one of the few delights we don’t have here in the land of milk and honey.

  3. Bill Koury says:

    Tovar, I agree there’s no other way to perceive wild berries, venison, mushrooms, edible roots and other wild food except as a “gift” to the hunter/gatherer. Helps us understand how Native Americans must have felt toward game and the land.

  4. You’ve hit the nail on the head. I am really trying to forage more and be aware and grateful for all of the gifts I am given … be it a cuddle from the Grand-daughter, a “road-crossing impaired deer”, or a nearby violet bud or patridge berry.

    It is a mind shift and I’ve had people ask, “why?” “Why do you want to eat that reed or that milkweed?” “Why do you not want to use protective gear when working with your beehive?” The simple answer is … to develop a complete appreciation and acceptance for all the gifts that have been offered.

  5. Arthur says:

    First, this was a gorgeous post, Tovar.

    I cherish ever meal I acquire – be it with my bare hands, firearm, or bow. And you have beautifully summed up my exact thoughts with this post.

  6. Mel says:

    Tovar, just wanted to say, I also, thought this post was very well done. Certainly, we need to all cherish what gifts are given to us, and, work very hard to maintain that type quality of experience.

  7. Tovar says:

    Terry: Thanks! I think that part of the gift of hunting and gathering is that they focus our attention in ways that increase our appreciation and awareness. Gardening and farming can do that, too, albeit in a different way.

    NorCal: Yeah, I thought you’d like Kimber. You’ll enjoy his book, I’m sure. It wanders into some interesting philosophical territory. And it’s humorous, especially when he’s poking fun at himself. (Wanna trade a few months of mild weather for a few quarts of blueberries and a few feet of snow? Didn’t think so.)

    Bill: Wild foods certainly do feel like gifts. One other way I can think of to perceive them is as something “taken” from nature, rather than something “given.” Such a perception makes sense if you think of humans as separate from wild nature. I think it can also make sense, even to hunter-gatherers, when those wild foods (or wild medicinals, etc) are being stripped from land or water at an unsustainable rate.

    Envirocapitalist: Yes. Being part of the world. That’s it!

    DEM: Like I said in the line above: Yes. Awareness and gratitude. That’s it, too!

    Arthur: Thanks! It’s a pleasure to know that my thoughts and words resonate.

    Mel: Thanks for stopping by! As Arthur did, you used the word “cherish.” I agree—that’s right on the mark.

  8. Eric Nuse says:

    Garden is half in, picked the last of the fiddleheads this morning, still working on wild leeks and a sharptail is thawing in the fridge. Life is good – what snow and cold?

    • Tovar says:

      Yep, life is good. And we truly didn’t have winter this year. But remember: in Holly’s “land of milk and honey,” the foot of snow we had in May would signal the end of civilization as they know it.

      If you need help polishing off that sharptail, let me know.

      • Only at this elevation – it’s snowing in Truckee – 90 minutes east of me, in California – as we speak!

        Sadly, even without snow, our unseasonably cold weather (still haven’t hit 90 degrees yet) is causing real problems because many of our crops depend on a lot of heat.

  9. LarryB says:

    Another beautiful blog entry Tovar. I see you’ve touched many with your thoughts on wild foods and the gathering and harvesting thereof. To eat from nature is a big deal these days and the more folks who do it, the better they’ll be for it. You are really moving people and it shows in their simply wonderful comments Tovar. Keep at it so that we all have these feelings rumbling through us and getting stronger. All the best.

    • Tovar says:

      Hey, Larry, thanks for stopping by.

      And thanks for the compliments and encouragement. I’m always delighted to hear from folks who have been moved by something I’ve written!

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