Coming Home

Free Yo Mind

Drennan ups the ante by trying to convince adolescents to eat his “green eggs and ham.” He speaks at a school assembly, and remarkably, in the presence of all the faculty, he pitches foraging as rebellion! He cooks a wild lunch for the whole school, starting with stinging nettle soup. It’s not easy, being green. Still, he scores a pretty universal thumbs up.

To celebrate, Drennan kicks off a game of giant puffball “soccer.” Throughout the video, Fergus gives off an air of youthful playfulness, and here it comes through unfettered. Again, feeding yourself is a big step toward being free.

If these kids were as schooled as I was, however, it’s going to take a lot more unschooling than a school lunch. We can’t just decolonize our diet. Freeing ourselves from our civil socialization is something we mainly have to do from the inside out. That’s why Nonviolent Communication, a.k.a., Compassionate Connection, is the true rebellion. Because to answer questions like “why am I doing this?” or “what do I really want to do?,” you have to be in touch with your own needs. And to do that, you first have to feel your own feelings.

They say depression is anger turned inward. Nobody rises up who can’t even feel angry. As I’ve explained, grains make good doughboys, especially adolescents – both in bread and, along with highly-sedative hops, in beer. Civilized living, in a number of ways, also suppresses the body’s ability to produce endorphins. Endorphins don’t just feel good; they’re what your immune system runs on.

If your endorphins are low, you’re not just going to “feel” bad. Your immune system will be depressed too. Hence the twin epidemics of depression and cancer: the two go hand in hand. It stands to reason that if you don’t love your life, you’re not going to put up a fight — on any level. If you can’t stand your situation, pretty soon you can’t stand up for yourself either.

Human Nature

Once you start feeling your feelings, you not only start to care for yourself, you also start caring for others. Getting back to nature means getting back to our own human, manimal nature. That includes compassion, and that, in the video, is what we see next.

Drennan turns his attention to finding roadkill for the feast. There’s a touching scene where he finds a dead badger on the side of the road. Unfortunately, this one’s too far gone to eat. Drennan sadly relates that badgers bury their dead and even make a “crying sound” while doing it.

Like Hafiz’ weeping bear, the honey badger does care. And unless we look out for each other, we too will fall victim to our own inventions.

Off the Treadmill

The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours… but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumbbells for his health when those springs are bubbling up in far off pastures unsought by him.

Thoreau, “Walking

Fergus goes on to convince members of a women’s dieting group to try foraging. Imagine, eating healthy food and getting exercise while gathering it: what a concept! It reminds me of the saying about wood heat warming you twice: once when you burn it and once when you chop it.

Before TV dinners, few people needed to go out of their way to get exercise. To a hunter-gatherer, the concept of “working out” would be ludicrous. Now physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the world.

Won’t Get Schooled Again

I have come to revere the skills of senior physicians who, like elders in a foraging society, are the repositories of something textbooks cannot teach.

Jonathan Reisman, MD, “Learning From Fungi”

Drennan decides to take the group mushroom hunting. Mushroom hunting is my specialty, and I can tell you that someone watching this documentary would learn next to nothing about how to actually do it. What a relief. Like mushrooms, it’s best to keep people in the dark. That’s what keeps me in business!

Seriously, when people often ask me how I learned how to forage, I usually say, “The hard way.” What is the hard way? Like Will Rogers says, “good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” My bad experience, however, was not mushroom poisoning; it was mushroom books.

When it comes to foraging, where does one go to become an expert in the field? It’s a trick question. Having gone to Princeton, I was dumb enough to try to learn things from books. In other words, I figured I would teach myself. Teaching yourself to forage is like writing and being your own editor. Or like they say, “the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”


Had McCandless’s guidebook to edible plants warned that Hedysarum alpinum seeds contain a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis, he probably would have walked out of the wild in late August with no more difficulty than when he walked into the wild in April, and would still be alive today. If that were the case, Chris McCandless would now be forty-five years old.

Jon Krakauer, “How Chris McCandless Died

If you’ve read Into The Wild or seen the film, you know that a little wild food knowledge is a dangerous thing. In 1992, Chris McCandless went to Alaska to survive on his own. His body was found four months later.

According to Jon Krakauer, McCandless didn’t mistake a deadly plant for an edible one. He ate wild potato, which his guidebook told him was safe. Wild potato is safe — in small amounts. McCandless’s fatal error was to make it a staple in his diet. In other words, he put one egg in all his baskets.

That’s understandable. It’s the same mistake humans have made with carbohydrates time and again. Potato and famine, corn and pellagra, even paleolithic acorns and tooth decay are just a few examples.

It’s also possible that what finally did McCandless in was wild mushrooms. It doesn’t really matter. Few would argue that he set off into the Alaskan outback reasonably prepared in the first place.

Above all, McCandless wanted to be alone. He didn’t want to know that help was just a few miles away.

DIY is a good way to DIE. What works is DIT, Doing It Together.

You’ve Got a Friend

These are the areas where mushrooms are considered friends, where children gather them for fun before they can read and write, where no adult feels the need for a mushroom manual, where immense quantities of mushrooms are prepared for the table in innumerable ways, and where accidents are unknown.

Gordon Wasson, Soma

Frank Cook in 2007, working on my mushroom book

Frank Cook in 2007, conducting a group interview for my mushroom book-in-progress

Like Soma and Chris McCandless, I came out in 1968. When Krakauer published the above pronouncement, I was 45 years old. My former teaching partner, five years my senior, had died five years before. What’s so sad about the death of loners like us is that learning from books is not only unsafe but unnecessary.

Given our disconnection from nature and from each other, whenever we want to learn about something, the first thing most of do is to look online, download an app, or, if you’re really old school, buy a book. All these options, no matter how high tech, are for losers: specifically, life losers.

In southern Africa, there’s a saying, “the one who asks is the one who does not get poisoned by mushrooms.” They’re not talking about asking Siri, Alexa, or Cortana because then you’re still the one deciding if what’s on the screen is what’s in your hand — or your child’s.

Into the Wild is often taught in schools as a “true story” when it might very well be more of a novel. Every book is fiction. Books, videos, websites, and apps are all just tools, and tools are no substitute for the real thing. A real “field guide” has two legs.

Smart People Cheat

The machine has got to be accepted, but it is probably better to accept it rather as one accepts a drug —that is, grudgingly and suspiciously. Like a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous and habit-forming. The oftener one surrenders to it the tighter its grip becomes.

George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

Apps seem so helpful, so easy! So does popping a pill.

Computers, like books, don’t make anyone an expert; only experience can do that. You can’t learn to swim, paint, fix a car, or have a healthy relationship just from reading about it or watching YouTube. As with any skill, the only reliable way to learn to forage is to practice actually doing it. The world is full of expert foragers, 99% of whom have never used an app or ID book. In countries where mushroom hunting is a way of life, the idea of learning foraging from a book would be like a hunter-gatherer getting a membership at a gym.

In school, you’re tested on how well you can DIY: do it yourself. That includes looking things up. What grade do you get if you get help from someone else? Here’s a pop quiz: what happens if you decide to start eating wild food and you don’t get help from someone else? Don’t worry, your foraging final exam is pass/fail.

Smart people don’t get A’s; they get help. They find a competent coach, mentor, or friend. They gain first-hand, facilitated experience. The only two things you need to master a skill like foraging are practice and guidance. Then competence comes effortlessly, naturally.

Books aren’t all bad; after all, this is one. But the map is not the territory; the map’s a drug too.

It’s been thirty years since I dreamt that robots would save the world. It’s been 3,000 years since the Hebrews worshipped idols. Now they are more powerful than ever.

Domesticated Violence

If normal people within this culture are raping and beating even those they purport to love, what chance is there that they will not destroy the salmon, the forests, the oceans, the earth?

Derrick Jensen, Endgame

Books never tell the whole story. The fate of Chris McCandless is a case in point. In the foreword to a biography written by Chris’s sister Carine, Jon Krakauer writes,

a lot of people came away from reading Into the Wild without grasping why Chris did what he did. Lacking explicit facts, they concluded that he was merely self-absorbed, unforgivably cruel to his parents, mentally ill, suicidal, and/or witless.

As the film illustrates and Carine underscores, Chris went on his fatal escapade largely to escape his parents.

In a letter to his sister, Chris wrote, “I’m going to completely knock them out of my life… I’m going to divorce them as my parents.” But as she relates, “Chris was not just some insolent teen rebel who had nothing to complain about and took off.” Their parents were both physically and emotionally abusive.

Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world. This is a story of surviving not lions and tigers and bears but a traumatic upbringing: in other words, civilization.

What if there is something so fundamentally wrong with the world, the lives, and the way of being offered us, that withdrawal is the only sane response?

Charles Eisenstein, “Mutiny of the Soul

If McCandless was crazy, this culture drove him to it. The McCandless family’s dysfunction is endemic to society. If you wonder how a whole nation could have followed someone as crazy as Hitler, read For Your Own Good. Simply put, totalitarian parenting leads to a totalitarian state.

We marvel at how a few people dramatically die but we barely look at how the majority live. The year that Chris McCandless died, I hadn’t spoken to my parents in over a year. That lasted another four years. McCandless died because the fabric of our society is in shreds. There is no safety net. There’s no mentorship, no village for a child to grow up in. Our dysfunction was Chris’s cross to bear.

Just the Way it Is?

Contrary to many popular perceptions, our hunter-gatherer ancestors were not warring, heartless brutes. While the data is a bit hazy — and tribes varied — researchers believe that, for the most part, they committed minimal acts of violence and were remarkably generous and cooperative… It’s not until societies become more complex that these characteristics begin to break down.

Danielle Friedman, “Parent Like a Caveman

One of the most cherished values of all band hunter-gatherer societies that have ever been studied by anthropologists is freedom. Hunter-gatherers believed that it is wrong to coerce a person to do what the person doesn’t want to do… They believed that people, on their own initiative, would learn to contribute to the welfare of the band, because they would see the wisdom of doing so and experience the joy of it. For hundreds of thousands of years, that was the organizing principle of human society.

Peter Gray, “Why Children Protest Going to School

We citizens of a modern democracy claim to believe in equality, but our sense of equality is not even close that of hunter-gatherers. The hunter-gatherer version of equality meant that each person was equally entitled to food, regardless of his or her ability to find or capture it; so food was shared. It meant that nobody had more wealth than anyone else; so all material goods were shared. It meant that nobody had the right to tell others what to do; so each person made his or her own decisions. It meant that even parents didn’t have the right to order their children around.

Peter Gray, “How Hunter-Gatherers Maintained Their Egalitarian Ways

What else can I say? Like I already noted, when you shop outside the box store, it’s not just the food that’s wild and free.

What’s Missing in Nat_ _e?

The Yellowwood School

After spending many days in the wilderness, people notice that their problems and distractions have faded away. Everything they see, hear, and smell becomes extraordinarily beautiful, in their freed and focused attention. In this intensity of experience they may feel a deeper calmness, joy, and aliveness than ever before.

Joseph Cornell, Listening to Nature

Watching Drennan take his dieters “into the wild,” there’s a sense of mystery if not danger. After all, it’s wilder in the wilderness. Yet these women point out how relaxing it is to be out in nature. “Therapeutic” is the word they use, and that’s precisely what it is. It’s called ecotherapy, nature therapy, or forest therapy. Whatever you call it, studies show that it has a bevy of benefits. Is that any surprise? It’s only natural.

A young woman came to me supposedly for relaxation and stress management. She was, in fact, suffering from the results of early childhood trauma, and we ended up spending considerable time working through that as we developed her theta brainwaves [i.e., access to the subconscious].

During the first session she told me she had never meditated. She was even unfamiliar with the word. I hooked her up to the EEG and took her on a guided fantasy. Almost immediately her beta reduced dramatically [the brainwaves associated with focus and anxiety], and her alpha, theta, and delta came out in a beautiful meditation pattern.

After the relaxation was over, I asked her if this was a new experience. She said, “Oh no! I feel this way all of the time when I sit in a field of flowers.”

Anna Wise, The High-Performance Mind

A professional forager in New England was once asked, “what’s the most dangerous thing you encounter in the woods?” His answer? “A song that I don’t particularly like, stuck in my head.”

That evening, sitting around a campfire, a woman who had laid down in the woods to relax says she quickly forgot her troubles at home. I think of a poem I came across many years ago as I was waiting on a flight out of Charlotte. I took a walk at a little bird sanctuary near downtown. And there, on a plaque on a rock in a corner of the estate, I found this inscription:

Sometimes a part of me gets lost
And I am all distraught
And can’t think why
My smallest undertaking goes amiss
And my day is spent feverishly
Doing things I had forgotten,
Redoing things I had done wrong,
While other things accumulate.

But if some errand take me through the woods
All at once I know there is no hurry.
I sense the obscure, unhurried rhythm of growing things,
And I am whole again,
And go with quiet sureness to my work.

Faith Johnson, “Woods Healing”

Another term for forest therapy is forest bathing. Time spent in nature is like a baptism, washing away your stress.

Dispatching various pre-Christmas tours, I headed to the enormous green hillside a couple of miles from my house, partly to forage, partly just for the view, but mostly because I knew the walk to its summit would tire me out and does render me less grumpy…

Today, this close to Christmas, it was very cold and bitterly windy on the exposed hillside, and it quite literally blew my bad mood away, leaving me clear headed and able to appreciate my surroundings.

John Rensten, The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food

When I spend time outside, I remember that it’s not all about me. I am reminded that, as Plato says, “no human thing is of serious importance.” The message I get is, nature is not in a hurry. I don’t need to rush either. I can take time out to exercise, to enjoy. So much more is going on than my own little problems. It’s been going on for ages without me, and it will go on. Just as one season follows another, this too shall pass.

Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.

John Muir

Like Chris McCandless, when Cheryl Strayed goes Wild, she carries her demons with her. After all, depression always knows your new address. But the wild isn’t just a place to sort through your baggage.

It is of no use to direct our steps to the woods if they do not carry us thither… In my afternoon walk, I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses… What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?


My mind wanders on days like this, the wind still, the sky blue, the few clouds forgettable. “Be here now,” my mantra. But mantras have never quite worked for me. I struggle to quiet the noise of all that I’ve carried up with me. I once again brought more than I need.

Leah Swann

If we can get out of our heads enough to really be there, we can literally ground ourselves. If we can let go, back into nature, back into our bodies, we naturally heal. Our relationships heal. We come back home.

Stop and Smell the Fungus

Michael Harris’ epiphany came when, as a writer at Vancouver Magazine, he looked at his computer screen and saw fourteen open windows while his smartphone was buzzing almost nonstop. In that moment, he said, he realized that he was everywhere and nowhere at once.

Richard Asa, “It’s Time to Disconnect…”

Drennan’s foragers enjoy a sunset cookout on the beach, and it’s just lovely: far nicer than eating in a house or restaurant. Could the scenery, along with the exercise, be why “everything tastes better outdoors?”

In case you’re living in the 21st century, I might need to point out that being outdoors is not only more enjoyable but also good for you because being outdoors is what is natural. Take the relatively recent uproar about the importance of Vitamin D. How much money and technology does it take to prove the value of sunshine? It’s like saying, “recent studies show the importance of air and water.” Those studies are currently underway, funded by Nestle and the Buy N Large Corporation.

When I teach wild foods, I tell people, “don’t ever go mushroom hunting.” For one, that’s a recipe for disappointment. More importantly, nature is not just another supermarket. It’s not about replacing that big green wall with a Walmart. After all, foraging, at least the way I approach it, is not about what you can get out of the woods; it’s about how you can get into it.

Consequently, I take people to places not necessarily with the most wild food but with the most beauty: to see waterfalls or views, to really take in the landscape. I put context over content so we don’t miss the forest for the fungus. Like Joseph Wood Krutch says, “we must live for something besides making a living. If we do not permit the Earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food either.”

Years ago, I was hired by a couple from New York to take them out foraging. It was late afternoon in October and there wasn’t much time left in the day. I wanted to make sure they got their money’s worth, so I drove them to where I knew wild food could be found: in several front yards around town.

After a while, the couple said, “you know, we’d really like to be in the forest.” So I took them to the closest real woods. We didn’t find much, but we had a wonderful time among trees and moss and streams. We stayed out until we couldn’t see our hands. Driving back, the husband said something I still remember.

“I want to be a mushroom hunter. I don’t need to be a mushroom finder.”

Soon afterward, I quit gathering wild food for restaurants. I had learned what I most needed to teach.

Eat Here Now

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.

John Muir

beachThe last shot of the group, alone after dark on the seashore, circled around a fire, is just beautiful. Some of the happiest times in my life have been times like these. What is the essence of those times? The feeling that nothing else and nowhere else matters.

I remember, many years ago, working as a camp counselor. We would get weekends off, yet I would have no desire to go anywhere else. You can have that same feeling just being with a loved one or doing something you love, not necessarily outdoors. The important thing is being completely aware of and content with where you are. The appeal of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is this very “sense of place.”

In 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, Noma of Copenhagen was voted the best restaurant in the world. What was Noma famous for? Its use of wild food. The Summer 2010 issue of Gastronomica features an interview with René Redzepi, chef-owner of Noma. He says,

We want our guests to experience the sensation of time and place. So many times when you eat out, you close your eyes and you could be anywhere in the world: Berlin, Sao Paulo, London. There is a huge uniformity in the world of modern restaurants. Our job is to show people that we’re in the north of the world and the time of year that we’re in.

Why is this “sensation of time and place” so important? Not just to be sustainable, i.e., to make sure there IS a future. You don’t have to buy local to save the earth; you do it because it’s the only way for YOU to be happy. What’s the point of traveling if every place looks the same? What’s the point of eating anything new if everything tastes the same?

To say no to the dream of convenience, to ‘everything all the time,’ is to stay awake in the now. It means not being preoccupied with where you’d rather be. The more open you are to what life is dishing out for you, to what is coming up right then and there, the less hungry and the more happy you will be.

As Shunryu Suzuki teaches, to the student of Zen, each weed is a treasure. Just think, what are you are looking for or trying to get rid of right now? What are you trying to grow or trying to kill? “You don’t have to do any weeding of your experience,” says Nirmala. “Whatever you are experiencing right now is your true love.”

Let’s sit with that a moment. Are you looking for the love of your life? Do you think you’ve lost it? If it’s always in front of you, doesn’t that make life a whole lot easier?

This is what it really means to be savage (“of the woods”), pagan or heathen (“of the country”). And as the savagely pagan heathen Robert Frost declares, “who cares what they say? It’s a nice way to live, just taking what Nature is willing to give.”

Why the Caged Bird Sings

So just what is this curious joy I experience from gathering wild foods? Part of it, admittedly, is sheer gourmandise: my stomach growling at the thought of eating these delicious plants, as well as the culinary stimulation they provide me.

But it’s more — and more visceral — than that. When I’m wandering a meadow under a blue sky, gathering wild leaves, I experience an animal sort of mindlessness which I find extremely pleasurable. But at the same time, it is a heightened state of mindfulness that I’m in. I’m not only intensely tuned in the visual patterns presented by the plants beneath my feet, but, if even for a few short moments, I get to live not as a human spoiler to nature, a monster smashing about with my heavy carbon footprint, but as a light-treading human in easy coexistence with what nature has to offer. I feel at home on the earth.

Barbara Wilde, “The Joys of La Cueillette

In my life, I can only remember three lucid dreams. A lucid dream is one in which you know you are dreaming. When I had the first one, I knew I was dreaming because I was sleeping in a foreign country at the time. It was my first trip to Cuba, and I was so aware of where I was that when I found myself somewhere else in the dream, I knew something was off.

Whenever we think we should be somewhere else, something is off. In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle (author of The Power of Now) teaches that modern man is always trying to get home but never feels at home. In Naturalbody, Warren Grossman (author of Healed by the Earth) points out that “to not feel at home is a cause of disease. It is a continual state of stress.” I would go a step further. I say all sickness is homesickness. That’s why my organization is named No Taste Like Home. Our mission is to help people to feel at home in this life, not just in “nature” but with human nature: with each other and in our own skin.

When I teach, I ask people, “what does the word home mean to you? What does the word wild suggest?” Ideally, your home is your castle: where you can let down your guard, where you can relax. And yet, to leave our troubles behind, we get out of the city and into nature, into the wild. Such is the plight of the civilized human. Our boxes box us in.

Slow Food, Slow Mood

gadgets cartoon

If, once in a while, you find you have time to read a book, to laugh, to walk on the beach and enjoy the scenery – if you find yourself having those times, buy a computer, and those times will be gone.

Prem Rawat, No Ordinary Box

When treating nature deficit disorder, it’s not just the city we need to leave behind. In my longer outings, I am increasingly incorporating “primitive” skills like starting fires without matches. Why bother? Because to be here now, we sometimes need to relinquish not just fast food and familiar choices but many of modern life’s other conveniences. You can’t get away from it all when you take some of it with you.

Faithful to our instructions, we lived like pilgrims and made no use of those contrivances which spring into existence in a world deluded by money, number, and time, and which drain life of its contents. Mechanical contrivances such as railways, watches, and the like came chiefly into this category.

Herman Hesse, The Journey to the East

What’s so bad about labor-saving devices: cars, cell phones, ipods, and other gadgets like matches? Ironically, using things that are meant to save us effort can make us more focused on efficiency, i.e., on the product rather than the process. When you’re wired, you’re wired. Perhaps that’s why Jewish law forbids not only working on the Sabbath but operating machines that do that work for us (e.g., driving).

Second, our rapidly advancing technology tends to set a pace of life that we can’t keep up with. Let’s say you give a turtle a ride in your new car. Do you think it will appreciate it? Do you think it has any idea what’s going on? Your body doesn’t either. From our diets to our devices, we are not evolved for life in the fast lane. The problem with “progress” is that it’s gotten way ahead of us.

I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone.

Bjarne Stroustrup, creator of the C++ programming language

Technology has become the carrot on a memory stick. We need to remember that it is merely a tool. Like money, fire, and the mind, it makes a great servant but a poor master. It’s time to put the horse back before the cart.


Nobody sees a flower, really – it is so small – we haven’t time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

Georgia O’Keefe

While struggling to keep up with the March of Progress, we also leave each other behind. We’ve invented machines to do work that our mind considers tedious, like chopping food, weaving, and washing clothes. We call it drudgery, and we have fought hard to be liberated from it.

But what makes drudgery dull is isolation. This kind of work is meant to be shared, and it’s just the sort of mindless activity people can do while hanging out, catching up, and really getting to know each other.

Buncombe Fruit and Nut ClubI believe the loss of drudgery has unwoven the fabric of society. From field guides to TV guides, our interactions with the world and with each other have become mediated; that’s why it’s called “media.” Left to our own devices, we’ve gone from face look to Facebook. What we’ve supposedly gained in time — again, only to spend it working for The Man — we’ve lost in community.

This ain’t The Flintstones. One in four Americans has no close friends. The same one in four that’s depressed? Divide and be conquered!

Here’s my logo for a weekly social I’ve been meaning to start for years. I’ve just been too busy on the computer.


It’s claimed that social media brings people together, and when people have been so thoroughly separated, to some extent it does. But it reminds me of when I first started learning about health food. I read about white flour: that is, flour that’s been refined and then “enriched.” The author said, ‘if you take a dollar from me and give me back 13 cents, I don’t consider myself enriched.’ The daily grind is not very enriching either.

We’ve been fed a lie. Like Rick Davis and many others have said, “maybe we should stop asking why real food is so expensive and start asking why processed food is so cheap.” Most of what passes for vitamin supplements, for example, are toxic chemicals. Some, like Vitamin E, are even industrial waste. The drugs that keep us going in this culture, whether carbs, coffee, computers or cocaine, are much the same. We need drudgery, not druggery!

When I began to recognize my own addictions, I got help. I convinced my mentor to open The REAL Center, a school and support network for more satisfying relationships. To thrive, we need real food, real friendships, real eating and real-ating. Alone, on bread, we don’t live.

Thanks But No Thanks

The intensities of the rare, the seasonal, the brief, the strange, and that which requires both a kneeling intimacy and depth of knowledge to be safely known at all: these are needed as much as oatmeal, rice, or bread. It is that elusive, concentrated presence, the sudden coming and going of life forms mostly hidden, the awareness of mysteries that can only be given, not forced into being…

Jane Hirshfield, Decomposition: An Anthology of Fungi-Inspired Poems

Wild mushrooms, like poetry, are not straightforward. They are not easily consumed. Like exercise, like friendship, you can’t put their medicine in a pill, at least not one you can patent.

John Ruskin said “there is hardly anything in the world that someone can’t make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.” At the risk of stating the obvious, cheaper is not always better. From packaged, convenient food to packaged, convenient entertainment, the two questions I keep coming back to are, is an “easier” life — one that’s more comfortable and convenient— necessarily a better life? And is it really easier if you have to work to pay for it?

Last, when Spring its genial influence shed
And welcome thunders call them from their bed,
Large mushrooms enter. Ravish’d with their size,
“O Libya, keep thy grain!” Alledius cries,
“And bid they oxen to their stalls retreat,
Nor, while thou grow’st such mushrooms, think of wheat!”

Juvenal, Satires

If our poor health — on every level — has resulted from “progress,” is it really progress? Is the trade-off really worth it? Or is it possible that the last five to ten thousand years of civilization, including and especially the rise of agriculture, has been, as one author subtly puts it, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race?”

Yes, civilization brings us hot showers and cellphones. But, are the civilized willing to look future generations of depressed people, people with type 2 diabetes, and people with epithelial cell cancers in the eye while the civilized tell these future generations that ensuring the civilized’s access to hot showers trumps future generations’ right to be depression-free, free of diabetes, and free of cancer? Does ensuring the civilized’s access to cellphones trump future generations right to live? Yes, I know about modern medicine, too. Do not forget that many modern medicines were only developed as a response to problems caused by civilization in the first place.

Will Falk, “The Ecopsychological Imperative to Dismantle Civilization

In our catchpenny culture, it looks like we’ve thrown a dollar after a dime. If civilization is a godsend, then the gods must be crazy.

Reinventing the Meal

Modern man frequently appears to be a clumsy mechanic, pounding on a delicate and complex machine with a sledgehammer… a delicate machine which is nothing less than the spaceship earth — the only home he has.

Roderick Nash, “The Value of Wilderness

I grew up watching the TV show, I Love Lucy. Apparently, the history of civilization and I Love Lucy share the same basis. That point of departure is best expressed by the Indonesian phrase, neko-neko. It means, “one who has a creative idea which only makes things worse.”

goldfishModern man is like the sorcerer’s apprentice, or a monkey trying to fix a computer with a wrench. We don’t really know what we’re doing, and anything we do is counter-productive anyway. The plants humanity has tried to raise as pets have been like the goldfish a child brings home from the fair or the houseplant you give to someone without a green thumb. One ends up in the toilet, the other in the trash.

Perhaps you’ve seen rates like these posted in repair shops: “$60 an hour. $100 an hour if you help.” It’s sobering to consider whether most of what humans have done in the past few thousand years to improve upon nature has only served to wreck it. Mankind’s foremost achievement has been agriculture, and as we have seen, few things have been more destructive to the health of humans or the earth.

Focusing solely on finding cures for our “lifestyle diseases,” then, is treating the symptom, not the cause. It’s like punching a hole in your roof, managing to patch it up for a while, and congratulating yourself on the repair. The metaphor comes from taoist farmer Masanobu Fukuoka. His finest description of civilization, however, is hardly a metaphor at all. It goes like this: a man is staying up late at night to invent something, ruining his eyesight. And what he’s inventing are eyeglasses. If I don’t finish this book soon, I’m going to need a pair myself.

For another example of “fixing” what ain’t broke, see here.

Back to Eden

Living the Good LifeCheck out this “back to the land” classic. That’s what I call sticking your neko-neko out. Agriculture doesn’t look like such a fine idea to me. How do you think this guy’s back feels at the end of day? There but for the graze of God I go. Compare this to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle I’ve described. Which one would you call “the good life?”

Ironically, the Nearings believed in working only four hours a day. Good luck! Of course you can get non-human animals, machines, or third world countries to do your dirty work, but then we’re back to the same problem. You miss out on the very things that foster community and individual well-being: hunting, gathering, and all the “drudgery” of tribal subsistence living.

He who lives by the plowshare dies by it. “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread,” says God, “until you return to the ground” (Genesis 3:19). Was that a curse or just a prophecy? Agriculture is an Eden disorder, but it’s not genetic. Returning to the ground means going back to the land. Going back to the land means going wild. And going wild means going back to The Garden all around us: back with new eyes.

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