This chapter began with a consideration of meals, but revealed that each individual meal is part of a diet generated through a particular subsistence system. Many of our daily experiences, including our attitudes, skills, and relationships with others, are influenced by our subsistence system. Knowing that the Earth has been transformed for thousands of years by human subsistence activities, we must also consider the ways in which our future will be shaped by the present. Are we managing our resources in a sustainable way? How will we continue to feed growing populations in the future? Think about it next time you sit down to eat a meal.
A hallmark of agriculture is the separation of food production from food consumption; many people know almost nothing about where their food has come from. How does this lack of knowledge affect the food choices people make? How useful are efforts to change food labels to notify shoppers about the use of farming techniques such as genetic modification or organic growing for consumers? What other steps could be taken to make people more knowledgeable about the journey that food takes from farm to table?
The global commodity chains that bring food from many countries to grocery stores in the United States give wealthy consumers a great variety of food choices, but the farmers at the beginning of the commodity chain earn very little money. What kinds of solutions might help reduce the concentration of wealth at the end of the commodity chain?
Mono-cropping is a feature of industrial food production and has the benefit of producing staple foods like wheat and corn in vast quantities, but mono-cropping makes our diet less diverse. Are the effects of agricultural mono-cropping reflected in your own everyday diet? How many different plant foods do you eat on a regular basis? How difficult would it be for you to obtain a more diverse diet by shopping in the same places you shop now?
Agriculture: the cultivation of domesticated plants and animals using technologies that allow for intensive use of the land.
Broad spectrum diet: a diet based on a wide range of food resources.
Built environment: spaces that are human-made, including cultivated land as well as buildings.
Carrying capacity: a measurement of the number of calories that can be extracted from a particular unit of land in order to support a human population.
Commodity chain: the series of steps a food takes from location where it is produced to the store where it is sold to consumers.
Delayed return system: techniques for obtaining food that require an investment of work over a period of time before the food becomes available for consumption. Farming is a delayed return system due to the passage of time between planting and harvest. The opposite is an immediate return system in which the food acquired can be immediately consumed. Foraging is an immediate return system.
Domestic economy: the work associated with obtaining food for a family or household.
Foodways: the cultural norms and attitudes surrounding food and eating.
Foraging: a subsistence system that relies on wild plant and animal food resources. This system is sometimes called “hunting and gathering.”
Historical ecology: the study of how human cultures have developed over time as a result of interactions with the environment.
Horticulture: a subsistence system based on the small-scale cultivation of crops intended primarily for the direct consumption of the household or immediate community.
Modes of subsistence: the techniques used by the members of a society to obtain food. Anthropologists classify subsistence into four broad categories: foraging, pastoralism, horticulture, and agriculture.
Mono-cropping: the reliance on a single plant species as a food source. Mono-cropping leads to decreased dietary diversity and carries the risk of malnutrition compared to a more diverse diet.
Neolithic Revolution: a period of rapid innovation in subsistence technologies that began 10,000 years ago and led to the emergence of agriculture. Neolithic means “new stone age,” a name referring to the stone tools produced during this time period.
Pastoralism: a subsistence system in which people raise herds of domesticated livestock.
Staple crops: foods that form the backbone of the subsistence system by providing the majority of the calories a society consumes.
Subsistence system: the set of skills, practices, and technologies used by members of a society to acquire and distribute food.
World system: a complex economic system through which goods circulate around the globe. The world system for food is characterized by a separation of the producers of goods from the consumers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Isaac Shearn earned his PhD in 2014 at the University of Florida and is an adjunct professor at the Community College of Baltimore County. His work focuses on the archaeology and ethnohistory of the Caribbean and South America, with a focus on public archaeology, developing inclusive and participatory methods. His ongoing research in Dominica allows him to pursue his second major passion in life besides archaeology: music. He has played drums for a Dominican reggae band since 2010.
Binford, Lewis. “Post-Pleistocene adaptations.” In New Perspectives in Archeology, edited by Sally Binford and Lewis Binford, 313–41. New York: Aldine, 1968.
Boserup, Ester. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure. Rutgers, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2005.
Diamond, Jared. “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” Discover, May 1987, http://discovermagazine.com/1987/may...the-human-race
Fiedel, Stuart J. “Man’s Best Friend -- Mammoth’s Worst Enemy? A Speculative Essay on the Role of Dogs in Paleoindian Colonization and Megafaunal Extinction.” World Archaeology 37 (2005): 11–25.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Rome: The United Nations, 2015.
———. “World Hunger Falls to Under 800 Million, Eradication Possible.” World Food Program, May 27, 2015, https://www.wfp.org/news/news-releas...on-next-goal-0
Fortune, R. F. Sorcerers of Dobu: The Social Anthropology of the Dobu Islanders of the Western Pacific. London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1963 .
Hardin, Garrett. “Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162 no. 3859 (1968): 1243–1248.
Hawkes, Kristen and James F. O’Connell. “Affluent Hunters? Some Comments in Light of the Alyawara Case.” American Anthropologist 83(1981): 622–626.
Hawkes, Kristen, Kim Hill and James F. O’Connell. “Why Hunters Gather: Optimal Foraging and the Aché of Eastern Paraguay.” American Ethnologist 9 (1982):379–398.
Hayden, Brian. “The Proof is in the Pudding: Feasting and the Origins of Domestication.” Current Anthropology 50 (2009):597–601, 708–9.
Lee, Richard B. The !Kung San: Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
———. “What Hunters Do for a Living, or, How to Make Out on Scarce Resources.” In Man the Hunter, edited by Richard Lee and Irven DeVore. Chicago: Aldine, 1968.
Lee, Richard B. and Irven DeVore, editors. Man the Hunter. New York: Aldine, 1968.
Llewellyn-Davies, Melissa. “Two Contexts of Solidarity.” In Women United, Women Divided: Comparative Studies of Ten Contemporary Cultures, edited by Patricia Caplan and Janet M. Bujra. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press 1979.
Malthus, Thomas. An Essay on the Principle of Population. London: J. Johnson, 1798.
Nelson, Fred. “Natural Conservationists? Evaluating the Impact of Pastoralist Land Use Practices on Tanzania’s Wildlife Economy.” Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice 2012.
Paoletti, Maurizio G., E. Buscardo, D.J. Vanderjagt, A. Pastuszyn, L. Pizzoferrato, Y.S. Huang, L.T. Chuang, M. Millon, H. Cerda, F. Torres, and R.H. Glew. “Nutrient Content of Earthworms Consumed by Ye’Kuana Amerindians of the Alto Orinoco of Venezuela.” Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 270 (2003): 249–257.
Politis, Gustavo. Nukak: Ethnoarchaeology of an Amazonian People. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2007.
Rosenberg, Harriet G. “Complaint Discourse, Aging, and Caregiving Among the !Kung San of Botswana.” In The Cultural Context of Aging, edited by Jay Sokolovsky, 19–41. New York: Bergin and Garvey, 1990.
Sahlins, Marshall. “The Original Affluent Society.” In Stone Age Economics, edited by Marshall Sahlins, 1–39. London: Tavistock, 1972.
Wallace, Melanie and Sanford Low. Maasai Women, Film, Produced by Michael Ambrosino. Watertown: CT: Documentary Educational Resources, 1980.
White, Leslie. The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome. New York: McGraw Hill, 1959.
1. Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (London: J. Johnson, 1798), 4.
2. Ester Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure (Rutgers, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2005).
3. Richard B. Lee, “What Hunters Do for a Living, or, How to Make Out on Scarce Resources,” in Man the Hunter, ed. Richard Lee and Irven DeVore (Chicago: Aldine, 1968), 33.
4. Maurizio G.Paoletti, E. Buscardo, DJ Vanderjagt, A Pastuszyn, L Pizzoferrato, YS Huang, et al., “Nutrient Content of Earthworms Consumed by Ye’Kuana Amerindians of the Alto Orinoco of Venezuela,” Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 270 (2003): 249–257.
5. Kristen Hawkes, Kim Hill and James F. O’Connell, “Why Hunters Gather: Optimal Foraging and the Aché of Eastern Paraguay,” American Ethnologist 9 (1982):379–398.
6. Richard Lee, The !Kung San: Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
7. For more information about intergenerational dynamics among foragers see Kathryn Keith “Childhood Learning and the Distribution of Knowledge in Foraging Societies,” Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 15 (2005): 27–40 and Harriet G. Rosenberg, “Complaint Discourse, Aging, and Caregiving among the !Kung San of Botswana,” in The Cultural Context of Aging, ed. Jay Sokolovsky (New York: Bergin and Garvey, 1990)19–41. The quotation is from Rosenberg page 29.
8. For a discussion of generosity and sharing in foraging communities see Lorna Marshall, “Sharing, Talking, and Giving: Relief of Social Tensions among !Kung Bushmen,” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
31(1961):231–249 and Lester Hiatt, “Traditional Attitudes to Land Resources,” in Aboriginal Sites, Rites and Resource Development, ed. R. M. Berndt (Perth: University of Western Australia Press. 1982) 13–26.
9. Richard B. Lee and Irven DeVore, eds. Man the Hunter (New York: Aldine, 1968).
10. Marshall Sahlins, “The Original Affluent Society,” in Stone Age Economics, ed. Marshall Sahlins (London: Tavistock, 1972) 1–39.
11. Kristen Hawkes and James F. O’Connell, “Affluent Hunters? Some Comments in Light of the Alyawara Case,” American Anthropologist 83(1981): 622–626.
12. See for example Robert J. Gordon, The Bushman Myth: The Making of a Namibian Underclass (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000).
13. Gustavo Politis, Nukak: Ethnoarchaeology of an Amazonian People (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2007).
14. Stuart J. Fiedel, “Man’s Best Friend -- Mammoth’s Worst Enemy? A Speculative Essay on the Role of Dogs in Paleoindian Colonization and Megafaunal Extinction,” World Archaeology 37 (2005): 11–25.
15. Melanie Wallace and Sanford Low, Maasai Women, Film, Produced by Michael Ambrosino (1980, Watertown: CT: Documentary Educational Resources).
16. Melissa Llewellyn-Davies, “Two Contexts of Solidarity,” in Women United, Women Divided: Comparative Studies of Ten Contemporary Cultures, ed. Patricia Caplan and Janet M. Bujra (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press 1979), 208.
17. Ibid., 234.
18. Fred Nelson, “Natural Conservationists? Evaluating the Impact of Pastoralist Land Use Practices on Tanzania’s Wildlife Economy,” Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice 2012.
19. R. F. Fortune, Sorcerers of Dobu: The Social Anthropology of the Dobu Islanders of the Western Pacific (London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1963 ),107–109.
20. For more information about the archaeological evidence for the timing of bean domestication, see Michael Blake, John E. Clark, Barbara Voorhies, George Michaels, Michael W. Love, Mary E. Pye, Arthur A. Demarest, and Barbara Arroyo, “Radiocarbon Chronology for the Late Archaic and Formative Periods on the Pacific Coast of Southeastern Mesoamerica,” Ancient Mesoamerica 6 (1995):161–183. Another useful source is Lawrence Kaplan and Thomas F. Lynch, “Phaseolus (Fabaceae) in Archaeology: AMS Radiocarbon Dates and their Significance for Pre-Columbian Agriculture,” Economic Botany 53 no. 3(1999): 261–272. There is also interesting linguistic evidence that the word for bean entered the Mayan language around 3400 BC. For more information, see Cecil H Brown, “Prehistoric Chronology of the Common Bean in the New World: The Linguistic Evidence.” American Anthropologist 108 no.3 (2006): 507–516
23. Lewis Binford, “Post-Pleistocene Adaptations,” in New Perspectives in Archeology, ed. Sally and Lewis Binford, 313–41 (New York: Aldine, 1968).
24. Leslie White, The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome (New York: McGraw Hill, 1959), 284.
25. Brian Hayden, “The Proof is in the Pudding: Feasting and the Origins of Domestication,” Current Anthropology 50 (2009):597–601, 708–9.
21. Jared Diamond, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” Discover, May 1987, http://discover
22. See for example Marshall Sahlins’ argument in Stone Age Economics (Chicago: Aldine Atherton, 1972).
26. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “World Hunger Falls to Under 800 Million, Eradication Possible,” May 27, 2015, accessed May 10, 2015, https://www.wfp.org/news/news-releas...lls-under-800-
27. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of Food Insecurity in the World (Rome: FAO, 2015)
28. Information about the current prices paid to coffee farmers is available from the International Coffee Organization: http://www.ico.org/coffee_prices.asp
29. This phenomenon has been observed in many countries. For an ethnographic analysis of the health effects of the decline of traditional foods in Guatemala, see Emily Yates-Doerr, The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).