Joel Pontius, sustainability and environmental education professor at GC, is preparing to publish his first book on March 1 titled, Place-based Learning for the Plate: Hunting, Foraging, and Fishing for Food. Started from a childhood passion for biodiversity and spending time in the landscapes, Pontius believes that hunting, foraging and fishing are not only ways to feed our stomachs, but also ways to feed people’s curiosity.


Your book, Place-based Learning for the Plate: Hunting, Foraging, and Fishing for Food, how did it start?

The book started with some friendships that I had with a couple of the co-editors, Mike Muller and David Greenwood. They’re writers that I really respect. We were working on some of my  journals and Mike said, “You should create a collection of modern hunting, foraging and fishing stories that are kind of in the context of the local food movement and show how really anybody can do them in their everyday life.”

The book did end up with chapters written by people from a variety of backgrounds. One chapter was by Sammy Matsaw, who identifies as Oglala Lakota and Shoshone-Bannock, two Native American groups from the U.S. His story is about growing up hunting, gathering, foraging and fishing and what that means in the context of his own family. The place that he’s native to is governed by a totally different set of structures that took the land from his people. He sees the landscape itself as a source of hope and understanding for people who don’t know where they come from.


What about the chapters you wrote?

One of the chapters I wrote, is a chapter called “In Pursuit of Elk” about this childhood fascination with Rocky Mountain elk and a story that took me to the Greater Yellowstone and a bunch of other places to learn about how interconnected the landscape is from following these animals and then also having them as part of my diet as doing some hunting.

Since I’m the lead editor of the book, I didn’t actually have an editor for my work. Ann Hostetler, English professor, was a wonderful editor on that chapter. She was really gracious in giving me feedback on that. 


How did you go about collecting stories for this book? 

We shared the overall idea for the book through our networks and asked for potential authors to submit proposals for chapters they would like to write. I would say that writing articles for academic journals and magazines helped me get ready for this project. I learned so much about editing through doing this project! 


When did you learn how to fish, hunt and forage? 

That was my dad and I’s main thing that we did together. I think I might have been two [years old] when I started to learn how to fish. Hunting was also something that we did. My dad grew up hunting for rabbits and pheasants. So the meat that they could get from that helped supplement their diet. We did [hunting] to supplement my family diet. 

The foraging, especially foraging for biodiverse plants and wild mushrooms, is what I’ve learned more as an adult. I kind of took my own path as a naturalist and got more into the environmental movement. But it’s also interesting because I’m always questioning if I’m going to continue doing it [fishing, hunting and foraging]. There’s an environmental ethic that’s involved in it that is always changing. So I’m still learning how to hunt and fish all the time.


Why is hunting, fishing and foraging more important now, than before? 

Because people are losing knowledge of the land and water around us, and hunting, foraging, and fishing can give us meaningful relationships with our places and food. People should read this book if they want to explore some of the deeper personal meanings that can be found through these practices and see beyond pervasive stereotypes of hunting, foraging, and fishing. There are some unique stories that can shed light on the beauty and complexity of these practices.


What has been one of the most memorable things that you have foraged?

There’s this super interesting type of mushroom, called a bear’s head tooth. It was just the experience of “I can’t believe that anything exists that looks like this.” It almost looks like the structures that are in a cave, mixed with a very vibrant coral reef and a squid. This was something that I found and I was like, “Holy what!” I went back and did the research and found out that this is actually edible. And it’s in the “lion’s mane” family, which are species of wild mushroom that can also be cultivated. All right outside my back door.


What is your hope for your book and its readers?

 I hope that the book will be used as a way to start conversations.

This book juxtaposes a lot of different kinds of perspectives and stories that get a little bit outside of the stereotypes. Especially in this region, if you think of a hunter, you probably picture a certain type of person. And in this book, we try not to perpetuate stereotypes but just let people’s stories fit what they are. 

One of the things that I love, in several different parts of the book, is that people are telling stories about uncommon landscapes. They’re talking about campuses; they’re talking about grandmother’s houses; they’re talking about a lot of things that we can all relate to. But in ways that are a little bit deeper. My biggest hope is that if someone didn’t have any experience with those things (fishing, hunting, foraging), they would find it interesting, engaging and well-storied enough to see some of these things in a little bit more complexity in their own lives, or maybe to become curious about something that they haven’t been curious about before.