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It's Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat it: Misadventures of a Suburban Hunter-Gatherer Paperback – 26 Jun 2014

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"Locavores can be tiresome with their insistence on sourcing (and discussing) everything they put in their precious little mouths. Bill Heavey ran the risk of being a bore in his account of attempting to hunt, fish, grow or forage as much of his food as possible, It's Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat It, but escaped thanks to good humor, poking fun at hard-core foodies and himself while still finding merit in the movement... Mr. Heavey takes us back to the joys--and occasional pitfalls--of the humble edibles around us, and his conclusions ring true. The finest things I ever ate, wandering the East Coast with rod and gun for 30 years, were the most local ... Mr. Heavey reaffirms the value of things small and common that were once treasured but that we now walk by without a passing glance: persimmons, cattails, giant mushrooms, squirrels, morels, dandelions, wild cherries, frogs, crawfish and the whitetail deer that occasionally wander through backyards--at their peril, if it's Mr. Heavey's lawn."--Wall Street Journal "Heavey's bumbling attempts at self-sufficiency are a winning mixture of compelling and hilarious."--Modern Farmer "There is much to like about Bill Heavey's latest book. In it, Heavey, editor-at-large and back page columnist for Field & Stream magazine, follows a sometimes difficult, often challenging, and occasionally humorous path to eating wild... The book is an enjoyable read, funny without being cute and thought-provoking without an overbearing teacher-to-student tone. If you're not already a Heavey fan, this will likely turn you into one."--Courier-Journal (Louisville) "A humorous tale about a subject that's often taken too seriously."-Grubstreet "An engaging autobiography/ersatz primer on how to (or not to) undertake subsistence living in an urban environment. While this title is chock full of facts about nature and industrialized foodways, it's also a story about friendship and falling in love. VERDICT: Laced with tart humor and spiked with moments of sentimentality, this work makes for a compelling read."--Library Journal "Brilliant and incisive... It's Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat It is gently thrilling and endlessly emblematic of the chaotic way people evolved to become what they are now. The thing about life is that on your way to the hunt, you never know what you'll gather."--The VC Reporter "Heavey tells a tale in which a totally normal dude gets a wild hair up his ass about growing, hunting, and foraging for his own food. The trouble--and the delight--is where he lives; not Idaho or someplace rural, but rather inside Washington D.C.'s Beltway. The result is a hilarious and super instructive book ... Heavey's experience writing for magazines obviously taught him how to master the skill of keeping the reader's attention. His dry hilarity on everything from rototilling to the rarely-seen but abundant monkeyface eel marks, makes this book something special."--Library Journal "If Bill Heavey felt like it, he could write a book about something as boring as shuffleboard and it'd turn out to be good. He's just that sharp and funny. But thankfully, in It's Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat It, he chooses to write about things that are close to my heart, such as hunting, fishing, and wild food. Whether he's hanging out with trendy foragers in San Francisco or butchering caribou with indigenous hunter-gatherers in Alaska, he relates his experiences with respect, curiosity, and well-honed humor. Not only is this book perfect for anyone who loves food or the out-of-doors; it's perfect for anyone who loves a good story, well-told."--Steven Rinella, author of The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, Meat Eater, and American Buffalo "Bill Heavey is the convivial and erudite hunting/fishing/foraging/trespassing partner you never had--and just as well, because he generally returns from the 'wild' (backyard, park, and--yes--cemetery) bloodied and reeking. His entertaining yet sneakily informative tales will have you rolling in the thistle."--William Alexander, author of The $64 Tomato "This is a tale of a leap into the deep-end of extreme foodieism--clumsy, bold, courageous, hilarious, honest, and touching. Bill wrote an onion. The first layer is a funny, witty adventure story. Peel it back, and we'll find leaf upon leaf of how-to, coming-of-age, consumerist criticism, cultural discovery, plights real and imagined, and ultimately, a love story. Bill has given us all permission to not only discover a new facet of our edible lives, but to enjoy it."--Duff Goldman, Ace of Cakes "The age-old art of foraging takes Bill Heavey from his back yard to a Louisiana swamp and points beyond. But this is not a tale of trendy tablefare. With a healthy dose of skepticism, a dollop of humor, and even a dash of romance, Heavey transforms the typical ingredients of midlife crisis into a surprising feast of renewal, finding true sustenance in nature's garden."--Langdon Cook, author of Fat of the Land "A book with many layers, it's refreshingly untrendy, and it's narrated with great humor and honesty."--PopMatters

About the Author

Bill Heavey is an editor-at-large for Field & Stream, where he has written since 1993. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Men's Journal, Outside, the Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Magazine, and Best American Magazine Writing.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 88 reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Food Independence - Live by Foraging 1 May 2013
By Brenda Frank - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I understand Bill Heavey's desire to have food independence - live by growing, hunting, fishing and foraging food. It's the food side of living off the grid. Heavey challenges the lifestyle of the consumer who scouts in supermarkets buying shrink wrapped meat on Styrofoam trays and vegetables from the neatly arranged display under "natural" light, sprayed periodically to look fresh.

I took a personal interest in Heavey's story, being a Master Gardener and occasional forager and also living "inside the Beltway" around the District of Columbia. For me, foraging for natural edibles has the same lure as treasure hunting.

Although I did not expect hilarity in this book, I laughed out loud several times. For example, Heavey's "lawn salad" made from old weeds was not a great success. "It was agreeably crunchy at first bite, after which I settled in for a prolonged period of mastication. I chewed until I felt like the muscles on the sides of my head were actually increasing in size."

As a novice backyard gardener, Heavey experienced the common problems of correct soil preparation, buying seeds based on the enticing pictures on the packets, then, squirrels poaching his tomatoes. I understand the desire to take out these tree rats and know people, also living inside the Beltway, who fire paint ball and pellet guns at them. Being a bow hunter, Heavey instinctively went for his bow when confronted with squirrels creating mayhem in the tomato bed. Big Mistake! Not only is this illegal, but injuring the squirrel who escaped with an arrow impaling his leg is reprehensible, as acknowledged by Heavey. Upon the arrow hitting the targeted squirrel, Heavey relates that "my heart raced and a rush of conflicting chemicals flooded my system, exhilaration and shame, wonder and horror, pride and disgrace." These emotions were experienced before he realized the inhumane results of his action.

Some reviewers were offended by the hunting portions of this book. I was not. Heavey is not an irresponsible, bloodthirsty killer shooting animals for pleasure. No shooting for trophies here.

Heavey bow hunts - a more sportsmanlike type of hunting requiring patience, stealth and skill. He spent three years trying to kill a deer before succeeding. He is ethical in taking shots, trying for a double-lung shot because it results in the fastest death. Obviously, he also field dresses the kill and eats the meat. Neither Heavey nor his fellow hunters take pleasure in the death of an animal, only in the success of the hunt for the resulting meat.

Foraging in an urban setting is risky and difficult but possible, with delicious results. I have made delicious raspberry pies from berries picked in public parks and growing near apartment buildings. As a new urban forager, I have also stood, unknowingly, in deep poison ivy while harvesting juicy blackberries growing in a neglected lot near a gas station. This required a visit to a doctor for cortisone shots and pills, and LOTS of pain and suffering. That pie was expensive, indeed.

Heavey expanded the theme of living off the land to include interesting chronicles of the disappearing lifestyles of Louisiana Cajuns and Gwich'in Indians, living on the Alaskan tundra. He was able to find acceptance among them and participate in their hunting and fishing expeditions. Wild game is a critical portion of the diet of these people. Jody, Heavey's Cajun crawfisherman friend, estimated that 70 percent of his family's meat is wild game.

Reviewers also objected to Heavey's nighttime frogging trip in the Atchafalaya Basin with Jody. They used no gigs or mechanical grabbers. With bare hands, they just snatched the frogs from the surface of the water and put them in a rubber-coated wire envelope, a crawfish trap. The next day Heavey helped to butcher and clean the frogs. Later, families and friends had a frog feast, relishing the light, sweet meat cooked in a rich sauce piquant eaten over rice.

Heavey's ultimate success as an urban forager was finding and marrying a foraging soulmate. How can you beat that!

In the epilogue, Heavey tries to explain his hunger for a deeper connection to the natural world. "I was a modern man still trying to find out where I belonged." He wasn't born an Indian or a Cajun. He didn't grow up in a family of hunters or foragers. He just craved for a closer relationship to nature. "Was it possible to be nostalgic for something you'd never had?"

In sum, I found "It's Only Slow Food Until Your Try to Eat It" to be honest, interesting and well-written stories of Heavey's trials and success in foraging, as well as realistic, sympathetic descriptions of subsistence fishermen and hunters and foragers in San Francisco, Alaska and Louisiana.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Not as funny as a Patrick McManus book, but still quite an enjoyable and down to earth look at American options for foraging 9 April 2013
By Amber M. Anderson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Between the title, cover art, and description, I very much expected this to be a very funny take on the topic, in line with the Patrick McManus outdoorsman books.

It's not.

It DOES have humor in it and many of the stories did make me smile if not laugh out loud, but it also is quite serious in many places with a lot of introspection by the author into himself and those he encounters. It also has a lot of profanity, a touch of drug use, and more than a few graphic descriptions of killing various animals, FYI.

But on the whole I very much enjoyed the book - Heavey isn't shy about sharing bits of his life and goes through his various experiences dealing with foraging. He apparently started as a writer for Field and Stream Magazine and similar publications as an "everyman" - i.e. not an expert but just as a guy who enjoys getting out there. In the process, he finds that getting his own food is quite a powerful experience and makes various acquaintances who encourage and grow this habit.

He does a great job of making himself and the people around him - his partial custody and picky eater daughter, his foul mouthed and holder of non-standard ethics friend Paula, his self sought guides in Cajun country and indigenous Alaska, the characters of the "local foodie" movement of San Francisco and his new found friend Michelle who forages to help her grocery bill with her two children.

Heavey looks into what the foraging opportunities are in a variety of settings both local to him: from the fruit trees of suburban DC, the grass of his own backyard, along and in the Potomac, the fungus in Arlington National Cemetery, and to which he travels: several tours and events sponsored by an entrepreneurial foraging "guru" in San Francisco and his very knowledgeable tour guides, hunting ducks/alligators/frogs/crawfish/etc in the Cajun Bayou, and hunting caribou with a native group in Alaska. On the whole you do get a very good picture of what some of the motives are and how hard it is to really feed yourself with your own two hands. For some people it's a way of life, for others a matter of pride or survival or cost reduction, for some a conceit or snobbery, for others just plain interest and fun.

In the end, you get to see some interesting experiences through the author's eyes, get to meet some interesting people, and get to think about what hunting (killing your own meat) and gathering (finding and seeking) and preparing (hand smoking, butchering, etc) really involve and mean. And, in the end: Sometimes even the Master foragers use store bought pie crust for their hand gleaned sour cherries.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
One Man's Progression Towards Self-Sufficiency 5 May 2013
By ladyfingers - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Being a fellow hunter/gatherer, I expected someone authoring a book on these subjects to be better informed. Only after reading a few chapters do readers discover Bill Heavey really doesn't know much about weeds, gardening and wild greens. Had he not written chapters about other people's far more interesting experiences, his own would be few and unremarkable. Mr. Heavey's personal fishing and hunting stories were better. It's obvious these are really his true passions.

Nevertheless, the author fills in the blanks nicely, and ties it all together with a wonderfully written introduction and epilogue. As a matter of fact, they were my favorite parts of the book. Those short sections say a lot about Bill Heavey's character, and others like him who hunger for a deeper connection with the natural world.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Boy meets Girl and they Forage Happily Ever After 16 May 2013
By Lance M. Foster - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've been getting more into foraging, and have all kinds of guidebooks, but it's kind of lonely because no one around me is into it. This book is great because you get to partner along with a good writer on the same journey. From his backyard to the coast and hunting with the Gwich'in of Alaska, he not only learns the basics of finding and collecting plants and animals to eat, he gets deeper into the cultural and psychological aspects of it all...using humor and an easy-going rapport with the reader. For those that like a little romance with their reading, there's some of that too...with a happy ending :-)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Funny, enthusiastic, witty and insightful. 31 May 2013
By andiesenji - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is really a remarkable book because it looks at things that we see every day in a different light - that is, consider how many times you may walk past something that in the past was a source of food for many of our ancestors. And not just the Native Americans.
I grew up on a farm in the 1940s when most of the people in the area still gathered wild "greens" in the spring, pawpaws, maypops, berries, wild asparagus, onion grass, ramps, plantain, watercress, mallow, nasturtiums, nettles and purslane as well as the wild mushrooms that only the experts in the family were allowed to pick.
There was also hunting and fishing, finding bee trees (for the local "bee charmer" to harvest).

The author writes with wonderful humor and modesty in that what he was doing is often labor intensive but certainly for one who truly believes in eating what is available for free (and often tastier than anything in the stores) it is worthwhile, totally satisfying.

He writes about his backyard garden and reading his description of a homegrown tomato and the incredible flavor, causes me to wish that I had managed to find the effort to plant some this year. I am growing herbs, onions, shallots and radishes but thats it for this year.

His description of his adventures in Cajun country had me laughing out loud and the writing makes the scenes so vivid that it is easy for me to picture exactly what was happening. We hunted frogs when I was a child but we used long-handled fish nets because my grandpa was afraid we would stab each other (or ourselves) if we had gigs. The rule was, if you caught it, you cleaned it once one was old enough to handle a knife safely.

His trip to Alaska to spend some time with the Native Gwich'in people of the Alaskan tundra is equally inspiring. It also points up the problems these people are having with the attempts of the oil companies to exploit an area that is CRITICAL to the continuing success of the caribou as the ANWR area is their calving ground and not even the natives go there because it is important to not disturb the routine that has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years, or longer.

Foraging around San Francisco can be successful but the writer indicates that some people appear to be in it only for the notoriety (or the money) and not from any personal conviction about sustainability. The local expert who takes him on a seafood excursion is at the other end of the spectrum, doing it for the sheer pleasure of finding something that other people do not even realize is there.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read about urban ADVENTURES that anyone can have if they take the time to look around and actually SEE what is there if one just bothers to take some extra time. I wish that I was still physically capable of doing some of these things but age and arthritis forbid it. Meanwhile I can enjoy the experiences of writers like Bill Heavey vicariously through his evocative writing.
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