Less Hunter and More Gatherer: The Foraging Instinct

Raspberry Picking
Foraging: The Matrix of Human Communities?

I spent a lovely couple of hours picking wayside raspberries last evening with a few good folk from The Durham Fruit Group. This group is a growing network of people in the Durham environs who are connecting over local fruit, wild and cultivated. Among other things, we are currently mapping fruit trees and soft fruit bushes growing around the city and sharing knowledge about just about anything to do with local fruit.

The Durham Fruit Group is an offshoot from a loose network of good folks in Durham who are creating, sharing, growing and learning together about how to work towards a sustainable future for the city.

Foraging in a group is a profoundly therapeutic activity and this is no surprise as it is probably one of the most primitively wired activities a human being can do.

In late 1998 I spent five weeks studying a troop of Cercopithecus aethiops (that’s Vervet Monkeys) in the wild. My original plan was to look for links between the diet and fertility of the females, I ended up studying the formation of the group and their social habits around their foraging patterns. The point of this was ultimately to be able to say something about the kind of socio-ecological conditions under which the very earliest human groups might have formed. Obtaining food by wild foraging is possibly the matrix of human communities.

The stereotypical perception of “Man the Hunter” is worth questioning. If I recall correctly from my undergraduate Anthropology lectures, among the scattered remnants of hunter-gatherers on this planet, more than 80% of nutritional needs are met through foraging /gathering and “hunting” has a more supplementary and religious role to play. It’s also worth noting that the gathering is generally practiced by women on behalf of the group – yes 50% of the group do 80% of the providing! I must say, as I sat for many days, with my notebook, watching my little troop of Vervets idly picking fruit and socialising, I prefered this peacable vision of our earliest ancestors to Robert Ardrey’s “Killer Ape” theory.

Wild: half the size but twice the flavour

Where am I going with this? Well:

  • Going to the supermarket for raspberries will not feed the psyche of your inner gatherer and you are also in danger of forgetting what a real raspberry tastes like because shop bought fruit may be twice the size but has half the flavour of wild-picked.
  • As long as we perpetuate the myth of our “savage” hunting origins we will continue to justify an unsustainable meat-eating addiction and make excuses for our cruel and violent streak towards animals and each other.

Enough said.

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