Foraging, also known as "hunting and gathering" is the Ur-occupation of humanity (and the default business of every other species) and consists of gathering food and other resources from the environment. Most of humanity has progressed beyond this in day to day life, but some communities still maintain themselves by foraging and individuals from other cultures train in foraging skills or engage in some traditional foraging behaviours (arguably most of aquaculture is more properly classed as foraging than primary industry) either for subsistence or leisure.
In the right environment foraging can actually be quite effective - most sources suggest that the average hunter-gatherer spent fewer hours to maintain his (admittedly lower) standard of living than in settled farming communities or modern industrialised life. Some regions, such as the American Pacific Northwest, were so favourable for foraging lifestyles that they managed to develop the sort of societies that would normally have needed functioning agriculture to support them), in others foraging was only able to support small, at least partially nomadic populations. In general, foraging produces very little surplus food and struggle to support specialists, leading to very limited opportunities for technological progress.
Foraging skills will tend to be fairly environment dependant - although hunting and fishing will vary relatively little from one biome to another, the sort of knowledge of plant species that provides the bulk of foraged resources can be very local indeed.
In the modern era, urban foraging is possible as a (fairly marginal) way of life - much the same as rural foraging, but typically parasitic (or at least saprophytic) on the economically active members of society. This may or may not include begging and outright theft, but certainly would include dumpster-diving and the free-loading of anything being given away. In a consumerist society where large quantities of perfectly serviceable material is discarded, the margin may be relatively substantial and even less materialistic societies may seen significant opportunities if there is a high level of interrupted transience where people settle for a time, accumulate possessions and then discard them in order to move on to somewhere else with the minimum of encumbrance1.
After The End, foraging is mostly about delving into the ruins of civilisation for sustenance - at least it remains so for as long as the delvers are still looking for things like food and medical supplies. Once the consumables are exhausted, the business becomes more akin to salvage and/or treasure hunting.
Game and Story Use
- Foraging skills are a useful addition to any PC expecting to survive in the wilderness.
- Conversely a PC from a foraging culture is likely to have all kinds of complementary fieldcraft skills that can be useful in other contexts - these are probably paid for by a shortage of other, more "civilised" skills.
- For urban foragers, adjust accordingly - but local knowledge and street smarts will probably be at a premium
- Many primitive cultures are likely to be fully or at least partially supported by foraging, others might well practice transitional techniques such as planting untended crops along their migration route and harvesting them on their return.