Foraging, messy commons, and the fuzzy fringes of capitalism

Broadly understood as practices of collecting, scavenging and gleaning, foraging is a global phenomenon of our times. In Tibet and Nepal, scores of pickers rush to the mountains each spring to find yartsagunbu – a rare caterpillar mushroom more valuable than gold; between Colorado and Arizona, amidst retirees and RV nomads, people make a living by foraging and thrifting. In the mountains of Albania, these vast and messy commons left behind by communism, most families collect herbs and sell them into the supply chains of the global pharmaceutical industry. And on the edge of cities in Europe and elsewhere, foragers collect fine edibles – a statement against consumerism and against the shallow taste of industrial agriculture. In an era when the dream of a middle-class life based on a stable, salaried job seems no longer viable – or no longer desirable, or both – foraging becomes an essential economic strategy and a form of building relations with ones immediate surroundings. It raises questions on the nature of commons and the fuzzy fringes of the global system of capitalism.