A few days ago my friend told me about the new group of people she had been hanging around with, people so dedicated to simplicity in their lives that they lived both without money and without possessions. "They sleep on their friend's couches," she said. "And when people get sick of them they just move on."
"How do they eat?" I asked.
"Oh, they eat out of trash cans." she said, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. I was horrified. But my friend emphasized to me that this was a conscious lifestyle choice based on politics and morality and their own commitment to the world community, as well as their local environment.
"Well," she said, miffed. "That's not all they eat. They also cook for themselves. You know, found salad and things."
"Yeah, it's salad made of the weeds and plants native to the area." Now that sounded intriguing, something that could actually be a lifestyle choice and not just a poor life decision. Maybe a way of being in touch with your local environment that was exotic and interesting rather than oppressive and distasteful. It got me thinking about the food available to us for free, not for survival necessarily but for edification. Found salad. It was like a type of art. It sounded charming.
But my first internet search "found salad" was sobering. Rather than a list of things to find and use for salad it brought up more a list of object that diners had found in salad (and how much they were suing the restaurant for). Nuts, bolts and broken glass were par for the course (one woman found a busboy's thumb). Hmmm. Found salad began seeming less like a hobo jaunt and more like a dietary necessity. It was time to get serious.
My next search "edible weeds" got much better results. According to Google there were well over half a million web pages about common weeds around your house that might make a yummy snack. Dandelions? Okay that was pretty easy. Daisies? Cute. Wild onions, also fine, wild strawberries for a little color (in addition to a few dandelion petals). Then it got a little trickier. Milkweed shoots? Okay, I could probably do that. Watercress? Well I'd need access to a stream bed, also I wasn't sure I could identify watercress. It would really suck if I missed it and ended up eating, say, poison ivy. From there the suggestions got down right painful. Stinging nettles and thistle were apparently edible, once they had been boiled, but having to go out and harvest thistles would definitely test my commitment to this project. Reindeer moss, commonly found along hiking trails can also be eaten if boiled, though it will retain "a taste and texture similar to that of rubber bands". Yum.
In fact while all edible-weed web pages gave me plenty of things I could eat, very few of them gave me a compelling reason why I would want to. And after reading the list of warnings accompanying suggestions; "Be careful that you do not accidentally eat a strange weed which may be poisonous." "Be careful that the weeds you select have not been sprayed with herbicide or pesticide." or "Be careful that an animal has not defecated on the weeds you pick as the feces might spread disease." I was fairly certain that I didn't. That which does not kill us makes
salad? Not in my soulless, shallow, consumer driven little husk of a life thank you.
So I staged a retreat. I'm not proud, I'll admit it. Surely, I told myself, it would be better to go down to the Farmer's Market and buy some real food to make a salad and support the local economy, rather than putting all kinds of nice young landscapers out of business be eating all the plants they were supposed to be killing with dangerous chemicals. And maybe after that, if I am feeling especially at peace with the world I might fill a little bowl with some of my extra, grown close to home salad which I found in a food stall and leave it on my back porch for any passing anti-materialist (or fairy) who happens by, just to remind them what real salad tastes like.
It would be more generous of me if I'd invite them in for dinner, and I would. But I'd be afraid of what they might bring as a contribution.
If you're interested in finding your own salad on the average street corner you can try this website: http://www.countrylovers.co.uk/wildfoodjj/weedgall.htm
But if you are a coward (like me) you could try this dressing (it's good stuff):