On the way home last night, I found myself listening to an NPR story about foraging. I'm no stranger to the concept; I know that NPR has done reporting on it before, and I've read about it in magazines and online. Last year, our town had a "free market" that offered goods and services, gratis, and included a small food table with delicacies made from foraged ingredients.
is sort of a contested practice. Foragers argue that they don't eat
anything that anyone else would want. They find edible weeds in the
grass, they pluck mushrooms, they pick fruit that goes unpicked by fruit
tree owners who have no time to care for trees, they make pesto from
stinging nettles, and they even (sometimes, though I find this utterly
repulsive) eat squirrels. The people who are trying to end the foraging
movement say that foragers are vandals, thieves, and worse.
with some experts, the NPR correspondent discussed the ways in which
foragers in parks have actually become caretakers of their environment,
and how foraging seems to make people more appreciative of what we often
pass by without a second glance. The story suggested that there might even be ways for foragers to work in the service of parks, educating people about the natural world.
haven't ever gone hunting for my supper, and I'm unlikely to do so any
time soon, much as I prefer to make my food from scratch rather than
purchase it in packages or from take-out. But the story about foraging
resonated with me today because of a discussion I've been
having with some other bloggers about the things that are free.
past weekend, I attended BlogHer. While there have been lots of great
follow-up posts about networking and conference learning, there has also been a lot of controversy this year about the parties that happen on the periphery of the event, a phenomenon that's referred to as "outboarding." Several conference attendees got their conference passes revoked for hosting these parties.
attended one of these parties this year. I confess, I was curious; I
remembered watching people walk out of the hotel with bags full of
swag--the likes of which I hadn't seen at the Expo, where my biggest
score was a water bottle--and felt a little left out, like people had
gone to a birthday party where everyone got presents, and not invited
me. Some of these bloggers were obviously going to these parties to
connect with brands in a meaningful way as an extension of their
conference experience, but many of them, it seemed, were going to
collect free stuff. I remember feeling astonished that people could go
to BlogHer and never see the inside of a single conference breakout
session. It smacked of middle school, and I hated middle school.
Still, when I was offered a ticket by a generous blogging friend who
wasn't going to be able to get to Chicago, I jumped at the chance to
hang with the "cool kids."
Except I also felt a little awkward about it from the beginning. Now I was one of the people who was the "insider," the one who had access to the cool free stuff that other people
would covet. I knew one person who was going to go to the party, and
many other people who weren't. I was participating in the anti-BlogHer,
the exclusive un-conference. And--in case you couldn't tell from the lack of advertisements here--I don't care much about brands. It so happens that the party I attended
didn't conflict directly with any of the official conference sessions,
but that made it even more awkward, in some ways. When I ran into
people who asked me if I had plans for that night, I said, vaguely, "oh,
I'm going to a thing."
Most people I'd seen online flaunted their invitations, dropping party names like celebrities. Why wasn't I doing that, too?
And I began to think more about what "free" really meant in that context. I wasn't going to the party for the swag, but I was going
to do something that didn't jive exactly with my values, the ones that
Jory and Elisa and Lisa hold dear, too: the values of inclusivity. Why couldn't those vendors and brands be part of the Expo? Was the price of attendance compromising my values a little?
do we give up in order to attend these parties? Are we just lured by
the swag? Or do we really want to have conversations with these
people? During her keynote, Ree Drummond talked a little bit about her
decisions to choose her affiliations carefully, and to maintain the
integrity of her brand. Do we give up our integrity when we promise
(implicitly, even) to go proselytize on behalf of these companies in return for the stuff? Which then, of course, isn't free at all?
I subscribe to our local Freecycle listserv, where I often post things,
probably more often, even, than I pick them up. The great thing about
Freecycle is that stuff really is free. No strings attached. In
fact, that's part of the TOS that you agree to when you become a
member. No reselling, no picking and choosing. You offer something,
and someone picks it up. You give things away because you don't need
them, and you pick them up because you do. It's like foraging, in a
way, except more community-sanctioned and organized. And that's the way
free stuff should work. No strings attached, no guilt, no hard sell.
don't actually want to villify the outboarders. I'm glad that I went
this year, to see what that scene was like. I think that it's great for
bloggers to connect with brands if that's their thing. (It's not mine.) But I don't
like the feeling of exclusivity (my experience has always been that
sometimes the people I don't already know turn out to be the best
resources and advocates for my brand, or program, or whatever), and I
don't like the feeling I get from these parties that bloggers can be so
easily bought, by toys and food and alcohol. Our opinions mean a lot,
and we should be choosy about whom we represent, and how. We are a powerful group of women who should support each other instead of excluding each other, and we should not be for sale.
hope that there is a way to resolve some of these issues for next year,
to integrate the brands that want representation, and give them equal
access to everyone, and everyone equal access to them. They might be
surprised to find some diamonds in the rough--or maybe just some plain
old diamonds. As for me, I likely won't be at BlogHer, because I'll likely be at the professional
association conference for my new job, where, I will add, there are no parties, and no swag. I'll
miss the networking, and the sessions that rejuvinate me as a writer. If you go, I hope you'll do so with your eyes wide open, have an hors d'oeuvre, and think of me.
Here's a recipe that you can make from foraged ingredients, either from
your cupboards, or ... somewhere else entirely. They can be made small, as hors d'oeuvres or larger for dinner. Why, you ask, would she
take a perfectly good potato, mash it, and fry it? Well, I counter,
why would you take a perfectly good potato, boil it, chill it, and smother it in mayonnaise?
3/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1" cubes
2 T. scallions, minced
1/2 lb. ham, torn (or roasted corn or anything else you like)
salt and pepper
oil to coat the pan
2 T. flour or cornmeal
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes, boil until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain.
Mash potatoes well, and let cool just a bit. Add eggs and mash some more. Add scallions and mash some more. Add salt and pepper to taste. Roll the potato mixture into golf ball sized cakes, and flatten a bit.
When you are ready to cook, heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Place the flour or cornmeal in a shallow bowl and roll the ham cakes in it so that they are lightly dusted.
Fry the potato cakes for about 3 or four minutes on each side, until just golden.