Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

Forage with care

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 13 Nov 06, 01:57 PM

gin203.jpgI am very glad to see that the response to my blog and Urban foraging film has been very positive. So far not a whiff of that writ…

Indeed many of my ethical correspondents seem to have particular fruit trees and bushes that they remember fondly. One favourite of mine is an almond tree my daughters and I came across as we walked through a North London street a couple of Sundays ago. The nuts were still on the branches and though it took a bit of battle to crack them, the almonds were the finest I have ever tasted.

We also found some fantastic field mushrooms. We fried them in butter with a little garlic and ate them on thick slices of buttered toast.

In fact my family’s foraging is going to be a source of Christmas presents. Sara has decreed that we should have an ethical yuletide as possible and that means avoiding the festive circus of consumerism.

To that end we collected a big bag of sloes a few weeks ago and Bee and the girls spent an afternoon steeping them in gin and sugar. We’ll decant the resulting sloe gin before Christmas and give it to select friends and family. Don’t worry, the girls may have enjoyed making the gin, they certainly won’t be drinking any of it.

zolasolegin203.jpgBut I’ve got a cautionary tale for would-be urban foragers. Theo, a colleague in the Newsnight office, recalls what happened to Alan, the father of a friend of his.

Alan is a keen forager and had ventured out in search of mulberries in a London park. He wore dark clothes so any stains from the berries’ bright red juice wouldn’t show and collected his prodigious harvest in a black bin liner.

He’d gathered a good few pounds of the sweet soft fruit and was on his way home, black bag slung over his shoulder and hands stained a livid crimson, when a police car screeched to a halt beside him. Two officers jumped out and ordered him to stop in his tracks.

Had he fallen foul of the draconian laws on foraging discussed in my previous blog? No. It was a case of mistaken identity. A police alert had gone out to look out for a man who had murdered his former lover and dismembered her body. The policemen saw Alan, gore-drenched from his exploits among the mulberry bushes, and thought they had caught the killer quite literally red-handed.

I am happy to report that Alan escaped without injury or charge. Indeed Theo tells me the mulberry compote was particularly flavoursome that year.

So do you have a funny story about foraging or a favourite fruit tree? Or do you think us urban foragers are felonious fruitcakes? Either way do write in and tell us.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 04:01 PM on 13 Nov 2006,
  • Jon wrote:

I suspect I may have been one of the very last children to get a legally sanctioned beating at school in the early 1980's as a result of my desperate scrumping. I'd been sent to board at a prep school in Somerset, and it came as quite a shock to my system, not least the appalling school dinners. Being a country boy, I soon learnt to top up my restricted diet with elderberries, blackberries... and walnuts.

Sadly the walnuts were from a tree in the headmaster's wife's garden, and I was caught by said wife some twenty feet up shaking the branches to encourage the ripe fruit to drop. I was caned soundly for my troubles.

Revenge is a dish best served cold (coincidentally so were most of the supposedly hot dinners at school), and some weeks later a naughty boy stuffed a dead squirrel he'd found on the road into the exhaust pipe of the headmaster's wife's car. The culprit was never apprehended, but I imagine he considered honour had been upheld.

  • 2.
  • At 12:00 AM on 14 Nov 2006,
  • brian wadkins wrote:

I am a PhD candidate in ethics (more specifically I study bioethics but studied ethics and moral theory for 8 years prior) and having watched this blog I fail to any relationship between it and ethics. Moral theory (I use moral and ethical interchangably here) is imporant, enlightening and should be used to replaced leisure and tourism or media and communication on the national curriculum. You sir demean the real value of ethics and its rich history from the stoics to Aristotle to David Hume to J.S.Mill and beyond.
I is clear you are not aware of the value of ethics or you would not insult it by discussing the ethics of a radiator.

  • 3.
  • At 01:55 PM on 14 Nov 2006,
  • Bee wrote:

Hi Justin
I asked you this in person recently but didn't get much of an answer so I'll try here instead..
Why do you still own shares in a petroleum company?
Your helpful wife, Bee

  • 4.
  • At 06:06 PM on 14 Nov 2006,
  • sjk wrote:

4 hours and no reply from Justin.

Thanks for that contribution Bee.

As you know I haven't done anything about our finances because the plan was to do a feature on ethical investments. If I sold my (very small) shareholding in Dana Petroleum or, for that matter, the couple of hundred Centrica shares I own there wouldn't be any ethical work to film would there?

But since you raise the issue, here's an ethical challenge for you my darling wife. You can give our finances the ethical once-over and write an article about what you've done. If that means those shares have to go, so be it.

All my love, Justin.

  • 6.
  • At 11:17 PM on 14 Nov 2006,
  • hugh gibbon wrote:

Brian Wadkins is a PhD candidate? What exactly does he mean by that? Does it mean ethics is more important than spelling? I too studied Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume to mention just a few but they don't help me to understand the point of your message Brian.

Surely all this study on which you have been engaged should have helped you to postulate an effective argument in favour of your claim. Sadly it does not. My advice to you is, don't give up your day job, yet.

  • 7.
  • At 11:59 PM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • Graeme Hampton wrote:

Justin showing excellent management potential in ducking the awkward question here and delegating it to someone else.

  • 8.
  • At 09:38 AM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • vita wrote:

Its very sad so much goes to waste. On a slightly diiferent subject, but one that fits into your ideas, have you heard of FREEGANS. Urban foraging from waste from shops? If not they do have a web site.

A late blooming comment, as it were. Still relevant to the last post (da, da..... da, tat tat tat-tat, dee tat, tat, tat-tat)

While I'm all for going au naturel locally, if it's out of your allotment (and frankly, even if it is) do be very, very careful on the hygiene aspects. At the very least make sure you get it home and wash it within an inch of losing all nutritional value.

Having just nursed a wife through two weeks of food poisoning (no clue how, the rest of us were fine), I don't think our finances, the health service or the environment were served too well during this period.


  • 11.
  • At 01:54 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Good question, Bee [#3]. I'm really glad to see "The ethical man's life-partner" becoming more visible, and heard, and hope that continues.

  • 12.
  • At 02:36 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Martin wrote:

Er - don't pick the very low hanging fruit - just think about the dogs that have visited before you!

Dear Bee (and Justin!)

If you are interested in giving your finances an ethical makeover then we'd be happy to help! Lots of free resources available on our website.

Mark (Ethical Investment Research Services)

  • 14.
  • At 03:08 AM on 06 Dec 2006,
  • Fanny Edwards wrote:

You are being rather narrow in your outlook if you restrict foraging to things vegetable. The right dog can get you a rabbit if he is quick enough to chase the hawk off. Honey comb can be extracted from a fallen tree with a feral bee colony. Just check the the comb is stored honey and free of bee larva.

The sad thing is that all the blackberries, apples, mushrooms, almonds, pears and even mulberries growing within half a mile of me are totally ignored by the paranoid inner city children of today.

There is a genuine problem of what can best be described as 'vege-phobia', which even goes so far as to tear down climbing jasmine 'because of the pests' or even worse, 'because of the smell..'.

Today's city dwellers are no more in touch with nature than their Victorian counterparts, in spite of the appearance of squirrels, hawks and foxes.

  • 16.
  • At 08:27 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • brian wadkins wrote:

Dear Hugh,

This is a petty blog on the BBC not a real debate. You and the rest of the "psuedo" intellectuals would not understand if I launched a serious diatribe of epic proportions against the ethical nonsense in this blog. You can study who you like it does not mean you understand a word of what you are reading. If you understood the origins of ethics from before Aristotle..the pre-socratics you might understand the point of my original message.
I will not enter into debate with you on this blog.
When I release my ideas into the public domain you are fully welcome to reply in the same journal.

  • 17.
  • At 04:06 PM on 23 Jan 2007,
  • Shi-Hsia wrote:

Americans are odd people. I've cycled past "decorative" cherry, mulberry, and blueberry trees laden with fruit, none of which the owners seem to have appreciated for anything other than visual aesthetics. - And yes, I asked before picking.

  • 18.
  • At 09:40 PM on 06 Mar 2007,
  • Angus Fridge wrote:
  • 19.
  • At 09:50 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Daphne wrote:

My son has just come home with blackberries he has foraged. Unfortunately they were next to a busy trunk road and I am not convinced they are fit to eat. Would they be contaminated by all the passing traffic?

Foraging does seem a good thing in principal - far too much good food goes to waste!

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