I Don’t Cook, I Forage

(This is the second of at least four ‘miniature’ posts. I’m spending most of my time these days digesting what I’ve been learning, about myself and about others, from a raft of new people I’ve met in the past month, and from the experience, for the first time in 30 years, of living alone. This isn’t giving me enough time for my usual lengthy blog articles, but I wanted to at least get these four ideas out, for your thoughts.)


There is compelling evidence that for the first million years of human existence on Earth, we were almost entirely vegetarian, living in the trees, in rainforest. Those who lived near the sea were doubly charmed: not only was there an abundance of fruits and vegetables in easy reach, there were also sea plants and sea animals easy to catch and eat. Seafood provided us with the fatty acids necessary for brain growth, and that, combined with prehistoric climate change, allowed and/or forced us to expand our range outside the rainforest. There, plants of the type we could eat were in short supply, so we adapted and became almost entirely carnivorous, with the invention of the arrowhead and the discovery of fire. Then, perhaps thirty thousand years ago, we discovered catastrophic agriculture (the fact that certain hardy grains grew plentifully and exclusively in areas ravaged by flood or fire). We learned to exploit and perpetuate this agriculture and to process the grains to be edible, and this allowed us, finally, to settle, to have children more often than once every four years (since the little ones no longer had to be carried on long migrations), to eat an astonishing variety of foods, and to desolate the Earth with our soaring population and ravenous appetites.

That is a short history of human food, as we are coming to know it. A million years foraging easily as vegetarians, perhaps a hundred thousand as struggling hunter-gatherers, and then thirty thousand as settled omnivores. Our digestive systems have adapted remarkably well, though we never did have time to evolve the speed, agility, teeth and claws needed to chase down prey and tear raw flesh, so it’s a good thing those fatty acids gave us the brains to invent tools to do these things for us. All of this is imprinted in our DNA, indelibly. We are the product of over a million years of evolution.

Many of the people I know love to cook. One of the first bloggers I got to know when I began my Salon blog was Julie Powell, whose Jule/Julia blog, book and movie are now legendary. As I remember it, Julie’s fans were less interested in her personal life (or Julia Child’s) than in exactly how that day’s recipe on page 132 of the cookbook worked out, and how other readers’ experiences with the same recipe compared to theirs.

I was married to a woman who cooked very well, and preferred that I stay out of the kitchen where I was, she felt, just in the way. I expected that now, living alone, I would rediscover a passion for cooking, and jump into my barely-touched Veganomicon with enthusiasm and abandon.

I have not. I’ve read the book, and found it well written and entertaining, but most of the recipes seem to be, well, work. I’ve ploughed through a few recipes and they turned out OK, but much of the time I prefer to just throw together a bunch of raw foods, cut ’em up, make a salad of them, or a sandwich, or a soup, or a simple stir-fry, or just lay them out around the edge of a plate or two and eat them just as they came from the garden.

I’ve concluded that I don’t cook. I forage. Whether it’s in my kitchen with its bins of nuts and seeds and crisper drawers of vegetables and leaves and sprouts and shoots, and bowls of fruits and cupboards of breads and crackers and shelves of jams and salsas and spices, or in the local organic foodstore the Ruddy Potato or the cheaper Vancouver Whole Foods (a ferry ride and a bus ride for those like me who are now car-less),  I am the primeval gatherer. Instinct tells me what to buy, though I avoid non-vegan foods, choose local, organic and raw whenever possible, and avoid GMO and any processed foods whose ingredients aren’t natural and recognizable. But I’m not averse to buying (mostly locally) prepared foods that are not highly processed, especially when it comes to desserts or difficult or time-consuming to make foods.

I guess that makes me lazy. But I feel great kinship with our ancient ancestors. Like our cousins the (mostly vegan) bonobos, they ate an astonishing diversity of different plants, most of them as simple as bananas to obtain and eat. Eating shouldn’t have to be work. It should be easy and fast and fun, and healthy and nutritious, and it should occur when you’re hungry, not at any specified meal ‘time’. We’re natural foragers, in our kitchens and our grocery stores.

Eating is, of course, a social act, and I appreciate that there is a joy in preparing food for others to share, and in the appreciation of that gift. But still: The popularity of the ‘buffet’ shows that we still like to forage, to make personal choices, to mix things up for ourselves, to take what comes, to try stuff. That can be done with raw vegan foods too, and I can’t imagine a guest being insulted at having the choice of many fresh, well-laid-out natural foods, without the fuss and time required to actually cook anything.

I suppose I’m just too new to this cooking thing to really get it. I have at least a million years of catching up to do. What’s this desire for heat and the mingling of flavours all about, anyway? Are my taste buds missing something, or is this a cultural thing, like the desire to wear shoes?

This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to I Don’t Cook, I Forage

  1. > What’s this desire for heat and the mingling
    > of flavours all about, anyway?

    I share that sentiment, as I suppose many other men, while many women won’t, for cultural reasons indeed.

  2. Rob says:

    Dave – cooking on your own is a trial even for the most enthusiastic cook – isn’t food so social really. We cook as much for others and for other reasons that just eating? My own habit when I am on my own is to cook large stews, do roasts, large curries and then eat leftovers for days. Good food but after the time and effort up front, 5 minutes to the meal and NO washing up.

    Yes that is the other part – on my own I plan meals to have the least amount of washing up – I do of course have expert canine help in that department too

  3. Janene says:

    Hey Dave —

    Quick comment on your opening paragraph… when we became settled agriculturalists, the variety in our food declined *drastically*. Whether foraging, primarily fruit/herbivores, or hunting and foraging omnivores, we ate thousands of different plants over the course of a year. Once we settled, that dropped well below a hundred (particularily considering much of the vegetable variety we see comes from only a few plant families. Potato/Tomato/Eggplant/Pepper (solinaceas) for example)

    As far as cooking… I cook. Big time. At the assorted camping/conference gatherings we have had over the years, I have cooked at almost every one! Yet now that I live alone it is different. I have a get together once a week and cook for all my friends then. The rest of the week, its either leftovers, or as you say… salads, or the “mad munchy plate.” For me that includes meats and cheeses, but also vegetables, fruits, nuts… whatever I have in the house. It really is a nicely varied way to eat with minimal fuss ;-)


  4. vera says:

    Hey Dave… bonobos hunt. Very effectively, I might add.

    I am also into cooking, always have been, but more and more I am moving toward less cooking and more foraging. I think you have identified a trend! :-)

  5. Survival Acres says:

    Janene – I read somewhere that we used to eat over 3,000 different foods, now it’s less then 50 in the average diet. Boring….

    I am the only one that eats leftovers here (regularly). Probably because I don’t much care for cooking, although sometimes the creative urge strikes to try something different and then I’m in the kitchen making a mess. I had brocolli soup for breakfast…. because it was “there” and quick and easy to warm up.

    But Dave brings up a good point. If we don’t have a need to socialize with our cooking (or the desire), then some of us tend to just plow through it.

    Paleo humans “grazed”, probably on a semi-constant basis as food sources were found in the course of their daily activities. The notion of “meals” at dinner time or lunch or breakfast probably didn’t exist. Several small meals per day is much more healthy then packing your stomach full of food with too-large meals two or three times a day.

    This is a habit that I’ve cultivated some, to each something small whenever I feel like it, but also to avoid big meals (and nothing much after 5:00 pm so that I sleep on a nearly empty stomach).

    Lastly, it’s much more enjoyable to be on the receiving end on all of this, and let somebody else do the cooking!

  6. Janene says:

    Exactly S.A… since learning that, I have made a conscious effort to eat more different foods… and discovered how incredibly hard that really is! On a good day I’ll have six or seven different vegies, maybe a couple fruits, some meat and some fish, maybe even poultry also… but two good days in a row just means the same variety repeated! Or at least nearly. I’ve probably not expanded much beyond 50 (well, maybe 100) different foods in a year, but compared to “picky eaters” that may only eat ten or twelve, I guess that’s an improvement :-D

    However, I have to disagree with your last statement. Like I said I Cook! And nothing pleases me more than to make something and then get to enjoy the pleasure it creates in others as they eat!


  7. Joachim says:

    Dave, try to cook some Chinese food (authentic Chinese that is). It’s very healthy, simple to prepare, and can be almost meditative. All you need is a good iron wok, fresh veggies and a chopping knife. Stir fry for a minute or two, serve with brown rice, and enjoy!

  8. Jon Husband says:

    For some people, cooking is their art, or their hobby. I used to enjoy cooking very much when I lived and ate alone, but have stopped for the past 7 or 8 years. I was actually a pretty good cook, or so said my friends, but I now cook very frequently since I now live with someone who is a much better cook than me, and who uses the cooking as her creative and expressive outlet. And she is oh so very talented !

    But I also like foraging, and snacking throughout the day on healthy delicious stuff .. just as enjoyable as a gourmet meal, but different.

  9. Jon Husband says:

    very infrequently, I meant.

  10. Jim says:

    When else in our evolution have we done so much of our foraging, hunting, and preparing of meals – alone? Alone, as in, as individuals? Alone without meaning, ritual, or thanks? I believe that is a primary disconnect (of our agrarian culture).

    That, and wanting to satisfy our daily needs “fast” – so we can get on with our over-budgeted day, polishing those specializations/skills/knowledge that we value above community and all its nourishment (especially those in our community that we eat).

    Just a thought…

  11. prad says:

    nice to see you settling in to your new life, dave!
    living simply and thereby allowing others to simply live is one of the few redeeming paths left for our species.

    ‘foraging’raw vegan is certainly an excellent way to walk the path.

    in friendship,

  12. Boris Mann says:

    Cooking for one is tough. Cook in quantity, freeze it, and then you can forage your way into hot meals by hitting the freezer.

    Start with simple stuff like soups and stews. It feels like work, because you don’t have practice. Take joy in creating something with your hands – it’s easier and more satisfying than wood working :P

    I recently read “The Fruit Hunters”, which is an exploration of fruit worldwide, as well as some of the history of fruit. It is only in the last couple of hundred years that we have cultivated fruit that tastes sweet to humans and needs no preparation! In Roman times, the apricot had to be baked or dried before it was edible at all!

    Cookbooks are probably the hardest part of cooking. It makes you think there are RULES that most be FOLLOWED. Not true, except perhaps in baking (which I do less of, because it isn’t very forgiving). Cookbooks, like other people’s blog posts, are there for inspiration.

    Hope to see you on Bowen soon – I’m probably heading over this weekend. Cheers!

  13. Melinda Fleming says:

    How refreshing! I don’t like cooking at all. Neither does my husband. Guess who ends up doing most of it…he does most of the washing up afterwards though. But left to my own devices I would cook as little as possible.

Comments are closed.