Sunday, December 18, 2011

Food Gathering, a Communal Affair

One of the things I realized in writing about wild foods is that someone lost in any kind of wilderness whether it be arctic, woodlands or desert and finding food and surviving has the odds stacked against them.  Finding wild food requires not only knowledge and good timing, but perhaps most importantly for long term survival, community.
Mono women processing acorn meal.
It is one thing to be out in the wilderness for a few days or even a few weeks and getting by on wild food one can find.  It is quite another thing to live in the wilderness on a permanent basis.  Permanent wilderness living just like permanent living in civilization requires community.  Without community, living is simply more difficult than living in a community.
What is apparent in reading about food gathering in pre-industrial cultures is that while they all ate lots of different wild foods, they also invariably had some staple that became available seasonally and that everyone pitched in to gather when it became available and then worked to stockpile it for the times of the year when little or no food was available.
Acorn storage structures - note the stilts to keep the storage baskets off the ground and away from easy access to would-be competitors.

Given that communities living off wild food stockpiled against lean times, the chances of someone wandering into wilderness during the lean time of year and surviving on wild food are pretty slim.  The reason is simply that at certain times, there is no wild food to be had.
People living in a community had the resources of the community at their disposal, that is, the stockpiled food. Once people left the community, for instance to go on raids or extended voyages, they typically took some traveling food with them.  Barring that, they subsisted on some sort of food that was readily available and more often than not went hungry.  Long trips and raids consequently had to be made during times when some sort of wild food was readily available.
But the role of the community in wild food was not just in gathering, but also in processing.  Many wild foods need a good deal of processing before they could be put up against lean times and that generally required all available hands.  Even the gathering of surpluses required the whole community.  If the human community didn't collect the acorns or nuts or whatever, the animal community would.

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