I found this article very intriguing this morning. It’s an interview with Adam Grubb, a ‘weed enthusiast’ who strolls about looking for tasty plants growing wild, overhanging fruit trees and other hidden delights in Melbourne’s suburbs.
I’ve always been very interested in ideas like this. It fits in with my ‘London during the Blitz’ fantasy, of people secreting concrete dust in their bread, stitching together clothes from scraps and tickling the ivories for the entertainment of the kiddies in the bomb shelter.
Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to live on your wits?
Last year, when I was still working from home, I would explore the old laneways in my suburb every morning, taking the Lomo with me for company. Apart from discovering fascinating junk like busted TVs, spreadeagled phone books, broken skateboards, cracked garden furniture, old Disney tin toys from the ‘20s and the odd gaping hole (where the bluestone cobbles just give way to the mysteries beneath), I also did quite well in the overhanging fruit stakes.
The ‘Wick is brilliant for pilferable items, as everyone takes great pride in their gardens – but not in an uptight Toorak way. Smaller gardens mean that the space is used more intensively. Fruit and veg fight for space with overflowing rose bushes and succulents. Rusty poles from the broken washing line become props for grape vines, massive lemon trees lean over fences, pomegranates and passionfruit proliferate and prickly pears erupt in fuscia, electric blue and sunshine yellow colours. And the fig trees! I live for the fig.
While I was pinching things wholesale, I was unconsciously committing the laneways to memory. Lemon tree four streets down and to the left, best figs near the rusty fence and the shopping trolley, that sort of thing. I liked to imagine that if there was some sort of invasion I could just melt into the night and disappear. Racing across rooves, scurrying up disused alleyways and leaping over collapsed fences in the dark.
And what would I eat? How would I survive? Would I eat pigeons and Indian Mynah birds? Probably. Would I eat them raw? Not so sure. How about possums? Oh, I could get into those I reckon. How about dogs and cats? Well I’ve never been that hungry, so I couldn’t say – maybe if I couldn’t see the face. It’s hard to predict how you’d act if you were starved of protein.
I was born during peacetime, in a wealthy country where water comes out of the tap and fresh food is transported every day. It’s possible that I’ll never have to live on my wits. This is why West Africa was so intriguing for me.
The local kids would amuse themselves all day killing snakes, lizards, bizarre insects and bushrats with wee homemade catapults. And these weren’t naughty boys in need of a firm word from Dad and a slap around the chops. The little buggers were hungry.
Some people had made their homes out of nothing, just some beaten-out oil drums, rice sacks and a bit of mud to cover the gaps. The whitey reaction to this of course was your traditional World Vision-esque drama. ‘Oh!’ they’d cry. ‘Look at that awful shack, we must save the children! We must do something!!’ Whereas I’d be thinking: ‘Look at that. How did they make that d’ya reckon. I bet they pulled those nails off that old crate over there. And then unpicked the rice sack and reused the thread to stitch it over the roof and make it waterproof. That shack is fantastic.’
In short, everyone I saw on the street in West Africa was living on their wits. Probably closer to ‘London during the Blitz’ than they’d ever want to be. Despite what hellish ad campaigns from aid agencies and NGOs would have us believe, they’re not to be pitied, but admired! Those little boys don’t sit around intellectualising their lives, or write crappy blogs, they just developed a bloody good aim. With catapults made of sticks and strips of old car tyre. I reckon they’d eat like kings in a Brunswick laneway.
As the Age article discusses, these nifty survival skills are becoming more relevant. In a world where the logistics and environmental impact of food production is becoming an even greater problem, it makes more sense to scavenge, forage and reuse. Heck, I even found a Le Creuset in the hard rubbish the other day! RRP $200! Lifetime guarantee! Mint condition! Hanging your arse out of someone’s rubbish is not so silly after all, eh?
Here is Adam Grubb’s great site, called Eat the Suburbs. Check it out.