By: Blonde Two

I sometimes think psychology is a bit of a show-off. Not only does it combine the letters ‘p’ and ‘s’ at the beginning, it also ends in ‘ology’, often a sure sign of over-achievement. That said, I was very interested recently to be introduced to the idea that foraging has its own psychology (and plenty of research to go with it).

Like many stimulating ideas, this one came to me on a walk. I wasn’t on my own, I had been approached by the lovely Laurie King who is undertaking her own research into foraging and conduct in the countryside. Laurie by the way, is much better at crouching than I am!

Foraging means ‘to search widely for food or provisions’. Whilst it could be argued that we do this every time we visit the supermarket, pick vegetables from our gardens, or even shop online. Laurie and I were looking at it in terms of finding food in the natural environment. As we picked blackberries, discovered sloes and discussed hawthorns, Laurie’s expert and gentle questioning encouraged me to think about the processes my body and mind were going through.

Was I fed up that the blackberry, so promising in flower, had been trimmed before fruiting to clear the lane? (No)

Did I feel closer to and more involved in my environment as I explored the hedgerows? (Yes)

Did I think about how much food I took, and the impact of that on others and the natural world? (Yes)

Did I find foraging encouraged shared experiences with other people? (Yes)

Was I mapping my environment in a new and exciting way when I foraged? (Yes)

Did I think encouraging (especially in writing) foraging risked upsetting a natural balance? (That’s a complicated one!)

All of this prompted me to go home and investigate some of the psychology behind foraging. Just like cold water swimming, why does something so simple make me feel so good? Here are a few snippets of what I found out.

  1. The optimal foraging theory has been around for a long time. It predicts that animals (including us) confronted with a number of options aim to maximise their return rate. In other words they seek to spend the minimum amount of time and energy to get as much food as they can.
  2. Whilst fats and sugars were rare it made survival sense for humans to prioritise them so our preferences in that direction evolved. The increased abundance in most societies of both fats and sugars has now adversely affected our health.
  3. Foraging theory has been used to study all kinds of human behaviour including shopping, voting behaviour, gift giving and even murder.

All of the above interested me but provoked even more questions.

Why do I take so much pleasure from the effort (and scratched fingers) of blackberrying when Marks & Spencer sells such tasty berries in air-conditioned comfort?

Would I enjoy foraging as much if my survival depended on it?

Is foraging for natural food my equivalent of ‘going shopping’?

I didn’t have answers but what I do know is that I haven’t had a bad foraging experience yet. It makes me exercise, helps me to appreciate the area in which I find myself, and is far more satisfying than walking to the supermarket (unless of course, I find one of those £1.50 veg boxes that Lidl are so good at). I enjoy it so much that the terms ‘foraging’ and ‘shopping’ are becoming intertwined in my vocabulary.

I’ve got to go now. I’m off through the copse to forage for storage boxes at The Range!