Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Foraging as a way of life - information for class on 5/15

As we think and read about foraging, here are some characteristics and facts about foraging societies:

- The original affluent society. If affluence is defined as a society in which people’s needs are easily met, foragers, or hunter-gatherer societies, are the original affluent society. This is not because hunter-gatherers have a lot of stuff, but because the stuff they need is pretty easy to get (they make it themselves) and they don’t want a lot beyond that.

- Time. Studies show adult hunter-gatherers “work” about 2-5 hours a day, much less than the average American. In that time, they secure a diet that compares pretty well with our own in terms of calories, proteins and other nutrients.

- Leisure. When they’re not hunting or gathering, these groups hang out, visit, sing songs, tell stories and make art objects. Not a bad way to spend most of your day.

- Moving around. Foragers are generally nomadic, meaning they move from place to place. You need space to live a foraging lifestyle; some estimate foragers need between 7 to 500 square miles of land per person, depending on the environmental conditions. At the lowest estimated density, if the whole of the U.S. were foragers, we could support about 600,000 people. The current U.S. population is 314 million.

- Egalitarianism. Because there is very little stuff to be had in foraging societies, there’s very little status inequality. This includes gender inequality.

- Sharing. In foraging societies like the San of southern Africa, sharing is a core value. Greed is frowned upon, as sharing resources is important to the survival of the group.

- The downside. Foraging groups have to stay small in order to survive and this often comes at a price. Infanticide is common, as well as leaving the elderly or those too sick to follow the group to die alone. Though foragers don’t suffer from diseases of the Western diet like high blood pressure and heart disease, their life expectancy is shorter than ours. Among the San before colonization, barely 20% of those born reached age 60.

Questions to think about:

- Why do you think the chefs discussed in the article are turning to foraging in their restaurants?

- What might be the environmental impact of wide-scale foraging?

- How do you think your experiences foraging on Tuesday were different from someone born into a foraging society?

- Anthropologists and sociologists often categorize societies based on how they eat–agricultural societies grow their own food. Hunter-gatherer groups forage. Industrial societies, as we’ve seen, use assembly-line techniques to produce food. What do you think about this method of categorizing different societies? Does it make sense? If you know how a society eats, do you know about that society?

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