The Food Standards Agency is a QUANGO that should have gone in the great cull – and their wild food advice tells us why:
…the traditional harvest-time pursuit of hedgerow-picking has been targeted by a government quango that says children should not gather wild food unsupervised. The Food Standards Agency (FSA), which escaped last week's money-saving cull of public bodies, has also warned against eating anything that hasn't been washed or fruit that is "unhealthy looking" or "bruised".
It isn’t that children shouldn’t have what is and isn’t edible pointed out to them – that’s a good idea (that sadly the FSA’s advice fails to provide at all) – but that scrumping is bad for those children. What kind of message does it send out if everything has to be sanitized and decontaminated before little Jenny or Miles can eat it? What ever happened to the old advice – “you’ve got to eat a peck* of dirt before you die”?
However, what I found most interesting was the little threat in the FSA’s advice on wild food foraging:
Under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without the permission of the owner or occupier of the land. It is also illegal to pick, uproot, collect the seed from, or sell, any of particularly rare or vulnerable species.
Which I guess brings us to Epping Forest, where the City of London (who for odd historical reasons own said woods) has been gleefully prosecuting people for mushrooming:
Epping Forest keepers have warned that people will be prosecuted if they continue to pick mushrooms at one of London’s most historic open spaces. Illegal fungi picking has reached record highs this year at the Forest which has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest partly because of the diversity of fungi found there.
Apparently all this is for our own good:
It is dangerous for the public to pick mushrooms from the wild as poisonous mushrooms can be commonly confused with edible ones.
Not really – there have been about 200 or so reported cases of possible mushroom poisoning but nearly all of these relate to precautionary actions by parents whose small children have eaten a mushroom. In truth most mushrooms aren’t poisonous – they just don’t taste very nice!
The City of London goes on to say that mushrooming affects the ecology of the forest. Now I’m not going to get all mycological here but, if mushrooms are gathered properly, the impact on the ecology is minimal. I agree that there’s a case for making sure mushroomers know what they’re doing and perhaps a case – as we do with fishing – for selling licenses to gather mushrooms. And lo, that was the case:
The Fungi Licensing Scheme - introduced in Epping Forest in 2004 - has been terminated to help protect the genetic stock of fungi in the Forest. Licenses are currently granted for fungi research or organised educational fungi courses only and will not be issued for personal or private consumption
I’m sure that the genetic stock isn’t remotely bothered – collection for ‘research’ isn’t objectively any different from collecting for dinner. It would be much more honest for the City of London to have issued a limited number of licenses auctioned off to the highest bidder. This would have had the added benefit of providing a degree of self-policing as those who have paid for the rights will act to protect those rights. Not to mention some income to support forest management!
But then that would be too obvious wouldn’t it?
With foraging increasing as a pastime – and that’s what it is – we have reached the stage where authorities have noticed and, as ever, the default position of government everywhere is to stop something uncontrolled happening. By a combination of idiotic, counter-productive and threatening regulation and passive-aggressive warnings, authorities like the Epping Forest Keepers and the Food Standards Agency hope to keep us all safely consuming vacuum-packed, processed, tasteless and soul-less food purchased from shining, sanitized shelves in supermarkets.
Ignore them folks – get out there, enjoy your countryside, scrump if you want to, forage for the good things and hunt, shoot or trap the game. If more do these things we’ll get away from the stifling, scrubbed, unhealthy, bunny-hugging urban world and back to understanding how we’re part and parcel of nature. Back to appreciating the magic of nature’s bounty, to protecting it for that bounty and to using it for our personal purposes where right to do so.
As Kipling put if in ‘The Land’:
_Georgii Quinti Anno Sexto_, I, who own the River-field,
Am fortified with title-deeds, attested, signed and sealed,
Guaranteeing me, my assigns, my executors and heirs
All sorts of powers and profits which--are neither mine nor theirs.
I have rights of chase and warren, as my dignity requires.
I can fish--but Hobden tickles. I can shoot--but Hobden wires.
I repair, but he reopens, certain gaps which, men allege,
Have been used by every Hobden since a Hobden swapped a hedge.
Shall I dog his morning progress o'er the track-betraying dew?
Demand his dinner-basket into which my pheasant flew?
Confiscate his evening faggot into which the conies ran,
And summons him to judgment? I would sooner summons Pan.
His dead are in the churchyard--thirty generations laid.
Their names went down in Domesday Book when Domesday Book was made.
And the passion and the piety and prowess of his line
Have seeded, rooted, fruited in some land the Law calls mine.
Not for any beast that burrows, not for any bird that flies,
Would I lose his large sound council, miss his keen amending eyes.
He is bailiff, woodman, wheelwright, field-surveyor, engineer,
And if flagrantly a poacher--'tain't for me to interfere.
'Hob, what about that River-bit?' I turn to him again
With Fabricius and Ogier and William of Warenne.
'Hev it jest as you've a mind to, _but_'--and so he takes command.
For whoever pays the taxes old Mus' Hobden owns the land.
*For those not brought up on proper measures, a peck is two dry gallons or a quarter of a bushel