Thea Zuiker wild food UNBC
Thea Zuiker near the Sugarbowl Grizzly Den Protected Area, 100 km west of McBride picking wild blueberries. Photo submitted

Harvesting wild food – berries, animals, plants – may influence the way we perceive our environment, according to a northern BC researcher.

Thea Zuiker, a Master’s student at the University of Northern BC, is looking at how wild food determines people’s sense of place in McBride.

Zuiker hypothesizes that gathering wild food necessarily requires a broader understanding of the natural environment, and that people who are connected to their natural surroundings have a more positive experience of nature and take better care of it.

“If you were a fisher, you would have to understand the ecological processes that are involved – what they eat, where they spawn,” Zuiker says. Similarly, wild foods require in-depth knowledge of not only what plants are edible, but also which ones are poisonous.

Zuiker, originally from Kingston Ont. says she first twigged onto the subject after moving to Prince George. She helped one of her roommates pick medicinal plants for her wild crafting company. They picked mushrooms, cranberries, blueberries among others to make salves, lip balm and other products. Her other roommate was a really good fisher. She would tag along and they would come home with beautiful trout. She says they created a really good community.

She says she chose McBride as the location for her research because of its size and northern location. Having fewer First Nations people there than other northern locations also means that the wild food collecting can be looked at independent of First Nations culture.

She has already delivered a questionnaire to every household in McBride and 35 per cent were returned. She requested that the person most involved in wild food be the spokesperson for the household. Her preliminary analysis indicates that some people don’t care about whether it makes you feel more connected to your environment or friends or family, and some are mostly concerned with recreation.

In September, Zuiker plans to follow up the questionnaire with 15-20 interviews including people outside the village boundaries.

As far as positive outcomes from the study, she says overall, there’s a need for more documented information on the proper harvesting of plants.

She also asked questionnaire recipients how supportive they would be of wild food initiatives and many people who responded were supportive. She says it could lead to a greater awareness and celebration of wild food – maybe a festival.

Once completed, her Master’s thesis will be available at UNBC, but she says it’s important to share the results with the community. She says her goal is to make the world a better place.