On December 28, 2023

Slow down, get outside

By John Gonter

Editor’s note: John Gonter teaches cooking, foraging, fishing and hunter safety. He volunteers as an instructor with Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

In Vermont, we are blessed with opportunities outside. Direct experience with our mountains, lakes, rivers, fields and forests are restorative, develop our outdoor skills and reduce our stress. Our modern lives, the complexity of work, parenting, screen time — bring imbalance to our lives. Our business interferes with our natural ability to be outside, see what is in front of us, breathe the air and be able to relax. Our contemporary addiction to foods that are convenient and easy to prepare and serve contributes to our declining mental health, poor fitness and a degraded natural environment.

Making direct, hands-on, eyes-open time in the outdoors helps us adapt to our changing world. When we work “harder,” stare at the ad-driven doom and designed polarity of the internet, worry about climate change and find reasons to stay inside, we neglect the natural world that desperately needs our attention. We need to make time to recreate, reconcile with ourselves the natural world our lives depend on and learn reciprocity with the environment.

What are we doing personally, as families, and as communities to give back to the world that supports us? Are we getting our hands, pants and shoes dirty? How are we keeping nature in mind in everything we do? How many hours per day, week or year are we focused on things that really help the natural world? If our answer today is zero, any efforts we make are an infinite improvement.

As a lifelong foodie, I’ve always been interested in the origins of food. I am fortunate to have been raised on daily home cooked meals in a family of cooks, and I honor that legacy. I became a cook when my parents told me I could avoid other chores by making meals. With their help I got a good start on making handmade food. Over time, many chefs, farmers and foragers shared their time and knowledge with me, encouraging me as I developed from cook to foodie to instructor. Eventually my desire to combine great tasting food with natural health opened up the horizons of wild foods, and I became a forager, an angler, a hunter and a trapper.

I changed the way I live, the way I eat and the way I relate to the world. I enjoy and embrace the effort, time and knowledge required to pursue wild foods, including the deeply dynamic emotional elements of desire, disappointment, success and heartbreak. I honor life, I take life — plant, fungus, fish, animal. I no longer face an omnivore’s dilemma. I practice honorable harvest.

Every day I consciously give back with hands, heart and humility for the gifts that our natural world provides us. Every year I volunteer by teaching, doing clean up projects and supporting environmental conservation.

Our food systems globally continue to depend on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, mono-crop planting, large-scale livestock farming, globalization, trucking, etc. We will not sustain this model. Be reminded that there is no food in most of our homes that didn’t come on a diesel-powered truck, maybe wrapped in plastic, stored in refrigerators and freezers at the market and in our homes. We need to scale down and slow down: grow gardens, eat weeds, pick berries along the trail and harvest a few mushrooms. Learn to pickle, dehydrate and can. Catch some fish, hunt a deer, trap a beaver. Harvest consciously and make personal contributions to the natural world that respect and honor the lives we take. Practice reciprocity with our planet.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife provides high-quality free courses on fishing, hunting and trapping including topic-specific and advanced classes. For kids, they offer affordable summer camps in two locations that give kids hands-on direct experience with the outdoors, conservation, angling and hunting. As an instructor, I have seen people young and old make connections to food sources that inspire them, help them feel at home outdoors and connect them to our place in the world.

Whatever your food orientation may be, respect that a move towards home-prepared foods, especially from your own garden and from wild places represents one of our best opportunities to reduce the environmental harm of our food technologies and our “conveniences.” Time outside farming, foraging, angling, hunting and trapping are all low-impact, low-carbon activities that will reduce stress, improve fitness and broaden your nutritional intake.

It is time for us to take the future in our hands and power down, get outside and learn ways to be happy and healthy and stop thinking about “convenient” food and “saving money at the grocery store.” Homemade food and dedicated outdoor time are big time commitments, but the benefits to the individual, their family and their community far outweigh the cost of that time.  So perhaps this new years, you can resolve to get out there and build a personal relationship with our amazing natural world!

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