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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Hunting and Gathering for Sustainable Food Production #FLsustain

During the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) I have been participating in over the last few weeks the idea that a hunter gatherer style diet or a 'Paleo Diet' could be more sustainable than a diet which comes from intensively farmed food, particularly livestock such as beef.

Bosquimanos-Grassland Bushmen Lodge, Botswana 08
By Mopane Game Safaris (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Having more than a little experience of foraged food I think this is a little over simplified, although there is no doubt that the diet the modern and prehistoric hunter gatherer societies had access to does not require the same impacts/inputs or withdrawals from the environment than a modern diet provided by agriculture does.

For example a diet provided by agriculture requires that we input fertilizer and insecticide for crops and medication for livestock, impact the natural ecosystems of an area by rearing non-native crops or livestock and changing the landscape to suit them, and withdraw water and nutrients. So yes a diet supported by agriculture does have those drawbacks and yes there are certainly some agricultural products which are more of a drain on the environment than others. For example we saw the agriculture of the British Isles change drastically during the Second World War; away from primarily pastoral farming to arable farming as it allowed more food to be produced per acre to support the population while food was rationed. 

It's not as simple as that though, when hunter gatherers last roamed the British Isles the total population was thousands rather than tens of millions. They migrated to take advantage of seasonal resources and their entire life revolved around gathering food and other resources that they would use to sustain life. Now I can't imaging the entire population of Birmingham travelling to the coast each year for several weeks or months to catch fish and collect limpets and if they did what would happen? That's right all the food would be used up very quickly. The British Isles can't support it's population through hunting and gathering like it once did.  

I don't believe that the reason for that is that people don't know as much about wild food or are too squeamish, although yes that is as a rule true, but if the circumstances demanded it, and by that I mean hunger, I think people would be very quick to adopt wild food into their diet. 

This is a bit hard for me to admit because as a 'bushcrafter' and wild food enthusiast I'd like to think I'd have a headstart on most people when it comes to getting food from the wild if I need to but people are adaptable and I honestly don't think it would take people long to thinking of blackbirds and field fares as just small bony chickens if they got hungry. Also if you look at wild food in general the ones that you would rely on as staples aren't the kind you would mistake for anything else; cat tails, acorns, burdock etc.. and meat and fish is fairly self explanatory. So it wouldn't take long for people to get back into the swing of using wild foods. It's just us wierdos that want to eat fungi, and black nightshade berries and to tell the difference between hogweed and hemlock and things like that that need to be really careful when we are foraging.       

The problem is if we can't provide a 'paleo' diet through hunting and gathering how do we get it, that's right we'd have to farm it and as soon as we have to do that we have the same problem as before with the impacts of intensive agriculture. Yes it wont be the same impacts, we wont be making the massive environmental water withdrawals that are required to rear beef, although in the UK this is hardly a problem especially given the recent weather. Instead we'll be 'farming' something else like limpets, which made up a significant and important part of the prehistoric populations diet in the British Isles, 

Now here's some homework for you; google 'environmental impacts of shellfish aquaculture' and just have a look at the environmental issues associated with it. 

You see as much as we need to do something to improve the sustainability of our food production the solutions aren't as simple as they sometimes seem.  

Geoff




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