Thursday, May 15, 2014

We have Forgotten how to Hunt and Gather?!

                This past Tuesday was quite an interesting experience. For the first time in my life, I was expected to walk out into a field and find food. With the help of a book on edible plants and a couple classmates, we were expected to find as much edible material as we could. This turned out to be more of an adventure than we had originally thought. There was no real way to know if what we were doing was right. How were we expected to spend an hour outside and find plants that would not kill us? What would happen if we found the wrong plants? When everything looks the same, it’s hard to determine what is good and what is bad.

                The actual idea of foraging does not sound that difficult. Go out into the world and find things you can eat in nature. It’s an easy enough concept. However, it became one of the most difficult tasks in the entire class so far. While everything in the book looked different, everything growing on the ground looked the same. Two plants could look almost identical, but one of the plants is toxic. We found on a few occasions that the plants we thought were one thing were something completely different. The use of a book was so much less helpful than the use of our professor’s knowledge.

                The use of knowledge though another person has long been necessary for survival. The elders in tribes would instruct the younger generations how to hunt and gather. This was very important because if a group were to survive, they needed to be nourished. If a group could not pass their knowledge down, the others would either die out or have to figure out another way to survive. Since many cultures have learned other ways to survive, we have lost the knowledge of plants and animals.

                Even though most societies have lost the knowledge of hunting and gathering, a few groups of people still use it as their means of survival. Take for example the Kalahari Persistence Hunters. Their means of hunting does not use any sort of tools to hunt. They will use their bodies as their weapons. However, they use their bodies in ways we would not normally associate with hunting. Instead of using tools to kill an animal, they will chase the animal until it collapses. Since humans have the ability to cool ourselves through sweating, humans can run longer than animals without a break. Here are a few more examples of contemporary hunting and gathering societies.


  1. This was a great post about your experience through the foraging experience we had in class! An individual can be well equipped with a book, which has all of the answers seemingly, and yet at the same time the person can be completely unequipped and naked of knowledge. The answers are right in front of them, but it does get extremely overwhelming when everything is the same. I remember me and Sarah picked some wild onions. They looked a but different from the book, but the leaves looked like chives, the bulbs were white, and it smelled like onion. We did not know whether this could have been different or if it was the same thing in the book. We obviously called for the instructor's assistance and she said something along the lines of, "yup, that's onion." We felt assured, so we put it in our bag. THEN we came across another thing that looked like onion. It had sheathing leaves which I knew that the domesticated onions had the same types of leaves. We had no idea what to do! Could there be two types of wild onions? Is the book wrong? Was Kate (the instructor) wrong? Surely that was an impossibility, so we assumed the book wouldn't know of any hybrids. Well we didn't have the knowledge to assess that, so we left our faith in the hands of the instructor. As a society, we are not that fortunate to have people like Kate who are pretty well versed in foraging. I feel like as society progresses and as technology becomes more high tech and efficient, sucking people into it's hold, people draw more and more away from the survival tasks like foraging. When someone has a paying job, shelter, food provided at a store, what is the need to go forage? There seemingly isn't any need at all. People have, over a short amount of time, not felt these skills to be necessary. But after a nuclear war or after the whole world comes to a grinding halt (which might or might not happen), who will be the ones who survive in the end? The ones who can hunt and forage. So just because they don't have the upper-hand now (referring more to foragers), they will one day down the line.

  2. I think it's interesting to consider gender dynamics in modern hunting and gathering, and gender dynamics in our relationship to nature.

    For example, in Religion in America, we discussed how there was a sort of "masculinity crisis" after the closing of the frontier. The adventure was over, and it was time to go home. However, with no wars to fight or adventure to be had, the boys were feeling pretty un-masculine, as there was little to separate them from the women who were entering the work force. The response to this was to create organizations like the Boy Scouts, which taught men how to live off the land, and how to hunt. I'm not sure when this happened, but I'm sure separating "us men" from "them women" had the latent function of perpetuating gender inequality somehow. Also we can see how this type of mindset would encourage manly men to have dominion and control over mother nature, so to speak, in such a way as is environmentally and ecologically destructive. Imagine big plants and businesses destroying nature in order to produce goods and services.

    However, now gender inequality is on the decline. Men and women are becoming less and less unequal, and I think we can also see that in the emergence of what would be considered womanly tasks being taken up by chefs. We learned in class that men are now foraging as a means to get exotic foods for their restaurants. Perhaps this is also related to the "Go Green" movement, as gender inequality decreases, so does our idea that we must have dominion and exploitative control over nature. Now we are progressing toward more eco-friendly behaviors such as recycling, foraging, etc.