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Social Sci LibreTexts

6: Subsistence

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  • Learning Objectives

    • Identify the four modes of subsistence and describe the major activities associated with obtaining food in each system.
    • Explain the difference between wild and domesticated resources and how plants and animals are domesticated.
    • Explain the relationship between the subsistence system used in a society and the amount of private property or wealth differences that develop.
    • Assess the ways in which subsistence systems are linked to expectations about gender roles.
    • Categorize the social and economic characteristics associated with agriculture and describe the benefits and drawbacks of the agricultural subsistence system.
    • Analyze the ways in which the global agricultural system separates producers from consumers and contributes to wealth differences.
    • Appraise the ways in which human intervention in the environment has made it difficult to separate the “natural” from the human-influenced environment.

    • 6.1: Subsistence Systems
      Think about the last meal you ate. Where did the ingredients come from? If it was a cheeseburger, where did the cow live and die? Now think about all the food you consume in a normal week. Can you identify the geographic origin of all the ingredients? In other words, how much do you know about the trip your food took to arrive at your plate? How much you know about where your food comes from would tell an anthropologist something about the subsistence system used in your community.
    • 6.2: Foraging
      Foragers use a remarkable variety of practices to procure meals. Hunting for animal protein is central to the foraging lifestyle and foragers capture and consume a wide variety of animals, from squirrels caught with a bow and arrow or blow dart to buffalo once killed by the dozens in communal hunts. Augmenting their diet with gathered wild plant resources, such as fruits, nuts, roots, tubers, and berries typically provide a large percentage of the calories that go into any meal.
    • 6.3: Pastoralism
      The goal of many pastoralists is not to produce animals to slaughter for meat, but instead to use other resources such as milk, which can be transformed into butter, yogurt, and cheese, or products like fur or wool, which can be sold. Even animal dung is useful as an alternate source of fuel and can be used as an architectural product to seal the roofs of houses.
    • 6.4: Horticulture
      Horticultural societies are common around the world; this subsistence system feeds hundreds of thousands of people, primarily in tropical areas of south and central America, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. A vast array of horticultural crops may be grown by horticulturalists, and farmers use their specialized knowledge to select crops that have high yield compared to the amount of labor that must be invested to grow them.
    • 6.5: Agriculture
      About 10,000 years ago, human societies entered a period of rapid innovation in subsistence technologies that paved the way for the emergence of agriculture. The transition from foraging to farming has been described as the Neolithic Revolution. Neolithic means “new stone age,” a name referring to the very different looking stone tools produced during this time period.
    • 6.6: The Global Agriculture System
      Despite agriculture’s tremendous productivity, food shortages, malnutrition, and famines are common around the world. How can this be? Many people assume that the world’s agricultural systems are not capable of producing enough food for everyone, but this is incorrect. The problem is that this capacity is unevenly distributed. Some countries produce much more food than they need, and others much less.
    • 6.7: End of Chapter Discussion
    • 6.8: About the Author

    Image: Rice cultivation in Banyumas, Central Java. Image used with permission (CC BY-SA 3.0; Wie146).