Food is all around you. Most of us are so accustomed to the practice of paying for food at shops and markets that it doesn’t occur to us to look for it anywhere else. Foraging and gleaning is so much more fun than shopping, you never know what tasty and unusual treats you might find around the corner. And you’re reducing the amount of food going to waste too.
Adelaide has a great climate to grow a wide range of fruit trees, and there is always something in season. It’s legal and acceptable to pick fruit from branches hanging over the fence from a tree that is on private land. Generally fruit is ripest (therefore tastiest and most nutritious) when it falls, so fruit that has just fallen or comes off easily in your hand. Alleyways in the inner suburbs are great sources of delicious overhanging fruit.
Also if you see a fruit tree on private land that looks as though it’s not being harvested, the owner is often okay about people taking it, even appreciative that someone will make use of the fruit that is either too much for one household, or not to their liking. I quite often knock on doors of houses that have overloaded trees or lots of fallen fruit. I’ve even seen a sign on a front fence saying “please come in and help yourself to nectarines” there was even a crate to stand on to reach the higher branches, and boxes to take.
Some fruits that I have gleaned in Adelaide suburbs are persimmon, citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, kumquat and others), avocado, grape, feijoa, cherry guava, lillipilli, pear, fig, mulberry, loquat, carob, pepino, huckberry, passionfruit, apricot, peach, nectarine, almond, monstera, quince, olive, pomegranate, rosehip, Irish strawberry, jelly palm (the big bunches of small orange fruit on palm trees).
And in the hills: apple, plum, cape gooseberry, walnut, chestnut, blackberry.
Others that grow well: Jujube, sapote, pistachio.
My favourite fruit gleaning experience takes place at a fig tree that overhangs the drive-thru at my local McDonalds. I ride through on my way into town, and feast on figs as a breakfast stop. I watch as people go by, shut off inside their vehicles, in a queue, to talk to a machine, so they can pay money that they’ve had to work for, to get food that’s not nourishing, and doesn’t even taste good. Mostly they are so preoccupied with this task that they don’t even notice me there, eating amazing fresh sweet figs direct from the tree, enjoying being outdoors and in no rush to get anywhere. I’ve never seen anyone else pick fruit there.
Another source of free food is reclaimed waste. Huge amounts of perfectly good food get sent to landfill, from farms, supermarkets, markets, restaurants, caterers, and households.
Supermarkets throw out enough perfectly good food every day to feed about 20 households. I obtain a large proportion of my food from dumpsters. They are often locked, but for every lock there is a key, and conveniently the same key opens nearly every dumpster lock in the metro area.
For a restaurant meal, move in on a table as people are leaving and help yourself to their unfinished meal. Restaurants tend to serve over-large portions, which creates a great deal of waste of high-quality food. Restaurant staff might be okay with this, or they may ask you to leave. At food courts it’s much easier, no-one pays any attention.
Chain-operated bakeries throw out almost as much stock as they sell, as they want their display racks to look full all the time. Often if you ask at closing time, they will give away excess stock. Or if you go by a bit later, you’ll find their dumpster by the smell of fresh bread wafting from it. There is always more excess than any soup kitchen can take, so if you’re into bread and cake, you need never go short.
Fruit and veg shops may also be prepared to give away food that doesn’t look perfect, especially if you say it is to feed animals. Closing time at markets is a good place to get free food too.
Farms and orchards can be good gleaning grounds. Fallen fruit doesn’t get used, late ripening fruit can be uneconomical to harvest, potatoes with odd sizes or shapes get left on the ground, bunches of grapes get missed. If you’re interested in making wine or cider, vineyards and apple orchards can help make it happen. Always ask before taking anything from private land. The Gleaners and I is a French documentary about people who live on gleaned food.
There’s plenty of wild food around too, even in urban areas. You don’t need to travel to distant jungles to have a go at hunting and gathering. Edible weeds in southern Australia include:
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Amaranth (aranthus retroflexus)
Nettle (Urtica diocia)
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Plantain (Plantago spp.)
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Fat hen (Chenopodium album) also known as lambsquarters
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceaus)
Prickly lettuce (Lactuca scarriola)
Mallow (Malva spp)
Dock (Rumex spp)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)
Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-officinale)
Blackberry nightshade fruit (Solanum nigrum)
Mushrooms and seaweed should be properly identified before eating. Some are good to eat, and some less so.
Prickly pear fruits (tuna) and pads (nopales) are edible. The fruit tastes amazing, a mixture of papaya, persimmon and melon. The nopales takes a bit of getting used to, it’s quite slimy. Harvest with tongs into a bucket, and cut the spines off before eating. Obviously.
Lots of native plants have edible fruit, flowers, leaves or tubers. People have been living on this stuff for 40 000 years, so it must be alright.
Meat. If you want to eat meat, might as well do it in a way that connects you directly with your food sources, reduces waste, and controls feral animals. Considering the alternative way to eat meat involves enormous amounts of destruction, suffering and exploitation and isn’t fun or adventurous at all.
Roadkill. Recently dead kangaroos, rabbits, and emus can be good eating. Just leave out the bruised bit. I recently picked up a rabbit while out cycling, threw it in my pannier and took it home. Unfortunately it was all bruised so I didn’t get to eat it, but it made great compost.
Hunting. A slingshot or bow and arrow can get you some wild meat. There’s plenty of feral goats around, as well as kangaroos, rabbits, possums, and pigeons. Butchering is a useful skill to learn, and a unique way to impress (or repel) your friends at parties.
Fishing. Spend a fun day hanging out with friends by the beach or river, with a hook and a line, and you might even get some dinner out of it.
Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects. Try snails, bogong moths, crickets or witchetty grubs. Marsh flies are full of sugar. I eat the sugar but not the fly itself.
Check out the British TV series The Wild Gourmets to see some wild food foraging adventures.
With all these options to choose from, you need never go to the supermarket again.
- How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.
- Nature, economics and the free life.
- Get moving.
- Human powered.
- Grow food.
- Garden things to make.
- Make your own waterless toilet.