Who are today’s foragers and what do their behaviors signal?

June 4, 2014 | by Suzy Badaracco

“Rosie, get over here – she just got that blue box from the garage, where are you?” Snowbaby yelled – she was always a bit bossy toward Rosie. But still, the sight of the box certainly was cause for excitement. Bubbly peeps emanated from the tarp shadows and with a grand stretch of her hind leg Rosie emerged and lay down on a flowered red pillow. “What are you going on about?” Snowbaby just stared in the direction of the laundry room and Rosie ran to the front of the cage and started “weeking” in anticipation.  “I’m going first, I’m going first”, Rosie said. Snowbaby snorted. Each guinea pig was scooped up and placed in the blue carrier, brought outside, and released in a bottomless fenced enclosure on the grass. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, the tender grassy lusciousness - I am a forager, hear me squeak!!” Rosie proclaimed as she mowed down grass.  “Get a hold of yourself – you are an Urban forager,” Snowbaby said. Rosie snuffled, “Well it’s not like this stuff grows on trees, you know.”

Foraging is a Morph off the “local” trend. A Morph occurs when a cousin to a trend steps into the spotlight. The new cousin doesn’t kill off the original trend, it just steals the spotlight. A Morph doesn’t cause a death. This explains why the “local” trend is still here while foraging is standing in the spotlight. 

There are two types of behavior – Urban foraging and Wild foraging.  Urban foragers seek common wild edible and medicinal plants in Urban neighborhoods and local wilderness areas. Wild food foragers are more extreme and may include more extensive processing methods such as those required for acorn processing. Both foragers may look for animal or plant materials. The difference between foraging and hunting is that they prey sought by foragers are not as mobile or they are easily caught in groups, like clams or oysters.

There are three variations of foraging including:

1. The optimal diet model, also known as the prey model. This forager comes across different types of prey and must choose between them. How desirable a prey item is depends on the time required to find, capture, and consume the prey, and the energy it provides. 

2. Patch selection theory describes a forager whose prey is concentrated in small areas with quite a bit of travel time between them. Movement between patches depends on the travel time and the energy acquired from one patch versus another. 

3. Central place foraging theory describes the behavior of a forager that returns to a particular place to get food, or to hoard food or feed it to a mate or offspring. It may involve hiding places.

Optimal foraging theory has been applied to human foraging behavior. However, the other theories can apply to people as well. Patch selection theory can apply to mushroom foragers, for example. They learn where certain mushrooms tend to grow and will return to the area to find the same variety seasonally. Central place foraging can be seen in the food truck/street food trend. The forager returns to the same street truck to experience the same food and may introduce the location to friends or family. Not revealing the location to everyone but keeping it a a secret – is a type of hoarding. 

Food trucks behave like herd animals while brick & mortars behave more like pack animals. Herd animals move together, live together in larger numbers than pack animals and are foragers. Food trucks behave more like the prey in that they cause consumers to become Urban foragers who must seek them out. The trucks are the hunted, in other words. 

Another form of Urban foraging are the secret menus popping up in the food industry containing items not listed on the menu. A customer must know to ask for the item to receive it. Some examples include:

  • In-N Out: Animal style fries - fries, cheese, signature sauce; Monkey style burger - a cheeseburger with animal style fries stuffed inside.
  • Starbucks: Thin mint Frappuccino - green tea Frappuccino, java chips, peppermint syrup, mocha syrup
  • Taco bell: Cheeseurito - tortilla, cheese, green onions, nacho cheese; the Incredible Hulk Burrito, a burrito with guacamole instead of nacho cheese.

Foragers are brave. Not only are they taking the time to educate themselves to seek wild foods, they are risking illness or death itself to consume their discoveries. Foraging resurfaces during economic Recovery. Foraging behavior signals the return of consumer confidence, curiosity, risk taking and exploration. This consumer pattern is exactly what should be encouraged to pull them further into Recovery. 

Topics: Trends / Statistics

Suzy Badaracco
Suzy Badaracco is a toxicologist, chef, and registered dietitian. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Criminalistics, an Associates degree in Culinary Arts, and a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition. wwwView Suzy Badaracco's profile on LinkedIn

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