At around 7:30pm this evening, my dinner was disturbed by something being shoved through my letterbox. It’s been both of my children’s birthdays this week, so naturally we thought it was another princess card being delivered by a loved one looking to avoid doorstep small talk. Imagine our genuine horror when it turned out to be a scruffy, home-printed election campaign flyer for a local goon representing a very right-wing, quasi-Third Reich party masquerading as some sort of brigade, ‘front’ or alliance - the type often seen in tense footage on the news of crowds akin to football away fans causing trouble in a foreign city. My initial response was to open the door and to hand it back, making it clear that that sort of politics is not for us, but an intimidating scowl and shrug of the shoulders from the thug responsible made it clear that this was a bit of a daft thing to try to do. Besides, I made my feelings known well enough and ours went straight in the recycling bin. Who knows - maybe it will end up being an asylum form in the not so distant future.

Further into the evening, and I find myself lost in thought at how frightening that A4 bit of hatred must be to some of our neighbours. We live on a pretty diverse street, with proud evidence of a vast range of religious celebrations taking place across the year. There will be families with kids attending the same school as ours now living with yet another layer of fear - frightened that someone they share the same postcode with might actually agree with the lies, fear-mongering and ignorance that that leaflet drop was preaching. 

Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to be reflected in the demographics of those attending my foraging events - people from all backgrounds take part and it is a joy to be a part of that. Whilst I tend to keep politics out of the day itself, foragers tend to be liberal towards human endeavour and conservative (small ‘c’!) of nature. It’s a decent balance, in my opinion, with the aim of love and care to our fellow Earth-dwellers always paramount.

Taking further strides into the great outdoors though and, whilst I’m not in a position to speak on behalf of any ethnic minorities, I am mortified to see the occasional treatment of groups such as @muslimhikers - a superb project aimed at getting members of the UK muslim community outdoors - as if being outside in the hills is somehow a traditional british pasttime and exclusive to those from a white background (HINT: it isn’t, and in fact the first mountains climbed for fun anywhere in the world were done so a good few decades after the first Indian restaurant opened in the UK; a fact I’ve worked out with some cursory googling after an inkling I had, but one I’m pretty chuffed about, I must say). Most hardened mountain folk would prefer fewer crowds, but nobody should be allowed to determine what those crowds look like. All are welcome, whether clad in Hijab or Helly Hanson.

It’s an important subject that needs to be discussed more, and whilst I don’t want to go bandying about the R-word on this relatively light-hearted website of mine, one can’t help consider what minor a reaction a walking group of twenty or so Middle England types would cause climbing up Mam Tor on a busy bank holiday weekend. None at all, I suspect.

Back to foraging, which is by no means as popular as fell-walking (unless you count blackberries, which you absolutely should of course), and perhaps the problem isn’t quite so stark because we ourselves are a minority when it comes to the wider society. The outsiders picking up roadkill; the weirdos clambering around in the bushes at the park; the freaks staring at the countryside floor whilst the breathtaking views pass them by. 

(NB, the plight of people actually being discriminated against for their race or ethnicity is obviously far greater and more concerning than mine - this is a slightly ironic literary device to demonstrate a point. I am very aware of how this looks as a standalone statement - I’m not trying to be glib).

I’m a proud forager yet still sometimes struggle to admit to strangers what it is I do for a living. Generally speaking, if I think they will even understand what the concept of foraging is, I’ll probably summon up some confidence to say what it is that I do, otherwise it’s plain old ‘outdoor education instructor’ and suddenly we’ve such an absence of things in common that the conversation mercifully comes to a close. If someone strikes me as the sort of person more likely to toss takeaway litter out of the window on a country lane than be found in the same environment scouring the hedgerows for berries, I just can’t be bothered.

My hesitancy admittedly comes from not wanting to be considered too much of an outsider. You won’t catch me too often swimming in the mainstream - I much prefer the welcoming waters of that alternative pond over there - but that’s my decision, and my marginalisation is self-inflicted rather than being done so by, for example, one ethnic group to another. I want foraging to be an everyday part of living in the UK like it is in the vast majority of countries right across the globe. So my outstretched arms are for all those who want to join in with this most excellent hobby-come-passion. 

Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. Probably more likely a bit of a wimp - although I do quite like dishing out a good ticking off when it comes to litter offences, providing I’m not going to get my head kicked in for such brave social justice.

It’s a serious topic, but let’s lighten up a bit at the expense of middle-aged men, shall we? (“the real victims of discrimination, if you ask me”). Imagine a typical, liberal dad. He does the odd bit of yoga with his daughter, takes frequent runs and has been known to enjoy a macchiato - all pillars of 21st century manhood, of course, and actually a Sunday morning spent with a wild food tutor sounds pretty interesting to him. But plonk him in an environment that is traditionally male-dominated and he switches to stereotype, pressured into swinging wildly to the faux-baffled, conservative Right. Bemoaning youth culture, modern music and iphones in a world of receding hairlines, blue jeans and puffer jackets. For him, foraging workshops are the antithesis of what he would do with his pub mates, but he still ends the day with flowers in his hair, gets excited when trying a nettle cordial for the first time, and goes away fizzing with promising prospects of samphire soup, celandine salads and sorrel smoothies. I am in no doubt that the welcoming environment of a foraging event allows him to soften his stance on things that might have once seemed strange to him. That warm welcome is extended to absolutely everyone, regardless of their experiences elsewhere in this ever-confusing and increasingly unwelcoming world.

That’s the point really. Some might (correctly) suggest that our classic dad figure there might not be much of a minority elsewhere in society, but in a group of amateur foragers all looking to learn more about what wild food can be found all around us, the societal labels that so often restrict us fall away completely anyway. Foraging is a so-called industry that I am deeply proud to be a part of, not least because of the progressive attitude to all things natural, but also because you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone passionate about wild food and nature who doesn’t also have a ‘one welcome, all welcome’ approach to their trade. If you’re looking for a safe space free from modern day intolerance, I cordially invite you to join in.

I’ve written this because I think someone will enjoy reading or take comfort from it. If that’s not you, that’s cool, but please keep it to yourself - I don’t need your feedback.

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