The Hill's own hunter-gatherer
Emily Van Wyk ’11 embraces a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. A biology major and environmental science minor, the natural world infiltrates both her academic and daily lives.
As a biology major, Van Wyk completed two independent study projects over the course of her career on the Hill. In the fall of her junior year, Van Wyk studied abroad in Botswana alongside two traditional African doctors who specialized in medicine in the bush. “Every two weeks I would change locations [and move] to a different homestay location. Each group she encountered spoke a different African dialect and embodied unique cultural traditions. It was really interesting to see so much variation within one country,” Van Wyk said.
During her time in Botswana, Van Wyk helped identify and collect plants of medicinal value in the field. Van Wyk reflected, “Spending time in Botswana and learning about plants’ diverse functions inspired me to further pursue the many uses of plants.”
Upon her return to the Hill, Van Wyk began exploring local florae. She designed an independent study project aimed at identifying edible plant species in the greater Kennebec area. “Studying plant species in Waterville completely changed my perspective on food and has enabled me to practice a more sustainable lifestyle,” Van Wyk said.
This aspiration led her to move to an off-campus abode, a place where she would be able to take true ownership over her lifestyle and food consumption. “One of the main reasons I moved off campus was because I love to cook,” Van Wyk remarked. “People underestimate the power of a homemade dish. As my other roommates moved in, each contributed his or her own part to our healthy and sustainable diet.”
Van Wyk and her roommates do not miss out on any excitement by living off campus, and welcomed four local geese into their living room Why geese? “Because they were [explicate] beautiful,” Van Wyk answered. When asked if the geese have names, Van Wyk explained, “We didn’t name the geese because we knew we were going to eat them.” And eat the geese they did. They made the first of the four the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving feast.
Van Wyk has truly embraced sustainability during her senior year: “I have bought a total of two food items [this year],” Van Wyk said, “an eggplant and a sweet potato.” A frugal spender, Van Wyk manages to keep her fridge full of food by way of creative foraging. “I really like to preemptively dumpster dive. It is amazing what people are willing to throw out.”
Several times a week, Van Wyk does the rounds at local restaurants and takes the leftover food that the businesses throw away at the end of the day. “I always manage to scrap together pretty varied cuisine,” she said. Aside from her restaurant rounds, Van Wyk has three roommates at her off-campus residence who embrace a similar approach to the acquisition of foodstuffs. For example, one of her roommates hunts, and the animals provide a fresh source of protein. She also puts to use her independent study knowledge to use, foraging for edible plants in the woods nearby her home.
As her time on the Hill comes to an end, Van Wyk looks forward to her future. She plans to spend the summer working with a professor in the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica studying pollination patterns. Van Wyk said “I am not looking to dive into a career right off the bat, I want to keep my options open and explore. I am hoping to pursue various field positions at Mammoth Cave National Park.”