From cooking acorn bread over a campfire to eating a roadkill fox, Professor Erica Wohldmann has spent six months traveling through the USA and Canada living the life of a contemporary hunter-gatherer.
Professor Wohldmann, a neuropsychologist from California State University, entertained and educated listeners at the GUS (Gallery University Stellenbosch) on Thursday, 28 July. The small crowd gathered in the gallery to attend the first Science Cafe of the semester in which Wohldmann spoke about “rewilding” in an urbanised age.
“In many ways, we modern humans are not well adapted for the environments we have created. Biology cannot change as quickly as technology,” said Wohldmann.
Wohldmann discussed the consequences of human food choices and what informs them: “Farm-fresh food labels perpetuate this myth that food comes from a farm, but as it turns out our food system is a whole lot different from what the bucolic images might suggest,” she said.
The consequences of these choices include environmental degradation and obesity.
According to Wohldmann, the global obesity and prevalence of diseases linked to obesity is as a result of the high quantities of refined sugar associated with a more “Westernised diet”.
She added that many of the environmental issues people have today are mostly their own fault. “If you just Google what causes climate change you will see a whole lot of different things but a lot of them are related to human behaviour.”
Wohldmann specifically links many issues to modern agriculture, which she says is not serving anyone.“We do not have a food production problem, we have a food distribution problem,” she said.
Considering all of these issues is what inspired Wohldmann’s sabbatical into the wild. Here only one rule applied: Don’t buy food. “I set off into the wild in hopes of understanding what it might feel like to live in greater alignment with my ancient body,” she said.
“I really thought I would have time to learn all kinds of things. As it turned out, I pretty much spent my entire day looking for, processing and cooking food from morning until night, every single day for six months.”
Wohldmann described how, despite being a vegan at home, she found herself catching and eating fish in addition to eating the heart and legs of the roadkill fox. “I figured it was the most sustainable way to consume meat. It was very sacred, very special and it was delicious.”
The most recent of Wohldmann’s research on the cognitive effects of being in nature shows that it improves memory, concentration, impulse inhibition, reduces aggression and improves mood.
“We love the wild, we are born to love the wild – it’s called biophilia – even the urban wild. I was just out for a walk today and in five minutes, I already saw 18 edible and medicinal plants. We have food and medicine all around us,” she said. –Christina Pitt and Andy Kohrs