Disclaimer: I am not going to include references or footnotes in this article. Although I bring up some points and ideas that would perhaps be well served by doing so, this article is 100% my opinion and is not intended to be taken as the truth. I just want to share a perspective.
While this isn’t the first year I have eaten, collected or processed acorns, this is the first year that I have made such a large investment of time or energy into it. I also can see quite clearly how much time and energy I will need to invest next year in order to meet specific goals for how much I would like to prepare and in order to store a surplus. Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to invest in a large cracker in order to make this more possible logistically.
Acorn collecting and processing is not difficult. Not in the least. Oaks are among the easiest trees to identify, and even those who could not tell you which oak an acorn came from, would still be able to recognize an acorn. What it IS however, is time consuming, and I fully get that many if not most people living their lives and going to jobs, after school activities etc. do not have hours to spare. It can be turned into a family activity, which kind of changes the dynamic of collection.
I’ve made acorn pancakes, acorn crepes, spiced apple acorn cake and muffins and acorn banana bread this year so far. The crepes, and even pancakes can be used as a savory food but I would like to do more experimenting with non-sweet muffins, breads and crackers so that they can be even more of a staple food for part of the year in our kitchen. I have definitely reduced our food budget in the past few months because I am not buying almond flour, which is pricey, generally already rancid and absolutely not optimal for health to have as a staple food.
There has been talk about this acorn season in 2016 as a mast year. The word ‘mast’ refers to both the fruit of nut bearing trees (the acorns being oak tree mast) and the years of overabundance that cycle with years of minimal production. I’m not really sure about anywhere outside of my particular bio-region here in Northwest Louisiana but we can definitely all agree that this year has seen large acorn production pretty much all over the country.
It’s interesting to note that we don’t really know why oak trees have mast years. We know that this kind of boom and bust cycle doesn’t occur every year, or with regularity. It is true that part of the equation is weather, but we also know that it isn’t related to the weather/rainfall in the last year or two, but instead a response to broader and long term weather patterns.
Tangentially related, is how for modern humans, the idea of storing a surplus of food for the future becomes a fringe activity, for “preppers” or “doomsdayers” or what have you. Why is our language around storing food surplus- hoarding- so negative, when if we desire to eat seasonally or to incorporate wild foods into our diet regularly, that is what we absolutely have to do.
There is also evidence that the low output of oak fruits (acorns) experienced some years is related to explosions in populations of small animals that feed on acorns. Populations of these acorn feeding and storing animals are able to explode some years with the incredible abundance of mast years and the continued pressure that would exert on the oak populations can create this response. Oaks essentially produce acorns to create more oak trees, not to feed animals. It’s essentially a biofeedback loop, and the implications this brings up for humans that are acorning is immense. To me, that feels like direct evidence of awareness. On whatever level that it is, oak trees are aware of my presence around them, collecting those acorns. That’s truly incredible. If then, oak trees are aware of my presence collecting fruits that have been shed, imagine then the implications for plants that we harvest living tissue from. What about roots, where we literally take the life of that entire plant for the root?
This fundamental understanding of plants and consciousness, which is not shared by the broader culture in which I life, is a little radical. I get it. It sounds nutty and woo. Except that it doesn’t, because all of this is observable both to the layperson and the scientific method.
What is awareness, if not the ability to respond to our environment, to stimuli, to change?
My personal view, due to direct experiences that I have had is this: when we act in a good way with plants, that they generally want to be used. Plants and humans have evolved together. We are fundamentally different beings, but we share the same substance matter (kind of). Plants and humans have experienced some degree of co-evolution, as plants have been both food and medicine for the entire time we have existed at humans (and before!)
When I first began my journey with plants in a serious way, I was a pretty hardcore ethical vegan. And I have to say that it was harvesting wild plants that planted the first seeds that perhaps that way of being in the world wasn’t comprehensive enough. I can remember being in the wilds outside of Madrid, Spain and digging up burdock roots. At that time, it was mostly about food and not medicine, but I was deeply challenged by how it felt to be taking that plant.
There is complication in that for modern humans, living in cities and disconnected from the fabric of existence with the rest of life on the planet. We know there is something that doesn’t feel good about it, but oftentimes we cannot fully articulate what it is. I, too, live a relatively standard western lifestyle but I have made it part of my work to lift the veil and to really see the inefficiencies in our systems, the areas where work is outsourced and sedentary behavior has taken it’s place. I see where aspects of my daily life and the behaviors and habits that comprise my day and thus my life are not in alignment with my core beliefs and desires. And much of this clarity would not have been able to occur without the time spent slowing down and collecting acorns.
Ultimately, all of this is to say: It is never just about the food. I came into learning about plants and foraging for the food- to explore new flavors and textures, and then to have more of a full spectrum of nutrients available to me. And then it became clear that it was never, ever about the food. The food is simply an angle or a lens through which we can explore concepts such as abundance and scarcity as mentalities, the interconnection of all life, this idea of rewilding and what it means to be human on this landscape that is not the landscape that our bodies and minds evolved to live in. Contemplating what we have lost forever and what we can retrieve in some way. More specifically- plant medicine, too. I got into plants for the food, but my deep love and respect for them evolved into a decision to train as an herbalist to more fully understand the entire spectrum of experience.
What a gift the generosity of the plant kingdom is! I feel so grateful most days that I was called to the plants and the work that I do. It is impossible to not be actively aware of it because plants are thankfully so pervasive in my life. I have also worked hard to make that the case. What my greatest hope is-to live my life in a way where I become increasingly more worthy of these gifts, and to have something I say or write be an opening for someone else.