We Are What We Ate

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A-foraging we will go.
Foraging is back in fashion. Danish chef Rene Redzepi’s passion for foraging and using native ingredients put Noma on the map and triggered a small culinary revolution. Most ‘urban foraging’ is for extras not survival – it’s for flavour foods like herbs and greens or seasonal fare like mushrooms or picking overhanging fruit from other people’s yards … In this piece reproduced with permission, Dr Alyssa Crittenenden and colleagues talk about the Hadza hunter–gatherers who live in a savanna–woodland habitat in Northern Tanzania and forage to live.

What do they forage for? ‘Approximately 300 individuals, of a total population of 1000, practice a strictly hunting and gathering way of life. Their diet can be conveniently categorized into five main categories: tubers, berries, meat, baobab, and honey. We showed the Hadza photos of these foods and asked them to rank them in order of preference. For both women and men the most preferred food was honey and the least preferred food was tubers. Baobab was ranked third by women and men. There were sex differences on the other two foods: women ranked berries second and meat fourth, while men ranked meat second and berries fourth. In addition, though both sexes ranked honey first, men did so significantly more often.’

 adza women foraging for tubers

Who forages for what? ‘Tubers comprise part of the Hadza diet year round and can often be located  three to four feet underground.  They are collected almost exclusively by the women (see Alyssa Crittenden’s photo above) who use fire-hardened digging sticks to extract them from the often hard-packed soil. They usually roast some of their tubers when they finish digging and take the remainder (about 3/4 of their haul) back to camp to feed others. Typically the women go foraging in groups of three to eight women plus nurslings and some older children and collect baobab fruit and gather a variety of berries as well as digging for tubers.

Men usually go foraging alone. They hunt only with bow and arrows, poisoned arrows in the case of larger game. They always have their bow and arrows with them, even when they carry an axe to access honey. While on walkabout they often feed themselves on berries and baobab. They take back to camp mainly meat and honey, as well as some baobab. They may eat much of the honey they find but take back to camp about half of their haul on average, and about 9/10 of their meat. Grown men rarely dig tubers.

Children and adolescents are active foragers and are capable of collecting up to 50% of their daily energy requirement above the age of 5 years, depending on the season and availability. Young foragers tend to focus early collection on fruit and tubers, and although boys and girls spend considerable time digging tubers up until the age of 10 or 12 years, boys tend to abandon the group foraging parties at this age and begin solo hunting trips to hone their skills, while girls master the art of tuber digging.’