Monday, January 24, 2011

The Bare Hands Gang

Talk of killing what we are willing to eat... A while back I happened to read a diatribe by hardcore vegetarian about how humans were not evolved to eat meat because we were such puny-bodied animals we could never run down a buck and had no teeth to kill it with. She was a holy mission to tell us meat-eaters how evolutionarily deviant we were...

Now, your choice of diet... is your choice. If you want to live on miricle whip and coke, good-o, fine by me. If you are trying to raise your kids on it I might just be forced to do something about it, but sensible, careful, thinking vegetarians can nourish their kids just fine (it just takes a bit more thought, and it always should take some).

But humans are omnivores. And quite frankly a bit of meat does us good from the iron and vitamin D point of view, besides the fact that our gastro-intestinal tract seems well adapted to it. Anyway, she's wrong. Besides the fact that as tool using animals (almost inevitably using tools for food aquisition) humans are not unique (birds crack snails on specific stones, use twigs to fish for bugs to name two examples - and simians throw things, and use sticks to 'fish' for things.) we do hunt -- quite effectively at times -- for animals with nothing but our hands. She - city bred and supermarket fed vegetarian - just assumed that 'prey' was always a nice steak producing size critter. It probably wasn't a lot of the time, back in Africa when our shared ancestors were picking fleas (or salt) off each other. It was small creatures. Lizards. Fieldmice - find a nest and they're easy. Baby birds (muttonbirds are still a case of this). Frogs. Fish. Yes, I have caught them with my hands. And then there is the advantage of running and hunting in a communicating pack. Apparently a bunch of kids here used to run down (sans weapons - barring maybe a pen-knife or a stick picked up from the bush) wallaby for their tea.

And that, of course, is without thinking of the sessile invertebrattes - or invertebrates in general - oysters might need a rock or a fire to open, but black mussels you can stand on, if you have no fire or rock. Locusts and termites are still big parts of many traditional diets. I read the Maya used to eat rafts of mosquito larvae. And crabs, prawns, crayfish, and octopus are all things you can catch barehanded. Sometimes you get hurt doing it, but it's not that difficult.

I'm always a little taken aback by demands to permit traditional hunting - be it of whales or seals or abalone... that somehow involves a 4x4, or a glass-fibre boat with an outboard, and a rifle or aqualungs. Not that I oppose traditional hunting/gathering, or even non-traditional hunting and gathering - we're adaptable creatures and we learned new ways to hunt all the time. I believe it is a vital way of getting back to what we are, to understand the value and price (both morally and in effort) of food. But I feel if anyone wants traditional hunting/gathering rights in excess to those granted to anyone else, should do the entire number - from making the boat and spear to dressing in the traditional way for it. I would love to do this myself, to learn. I suspect from the personal moral point of view, once I had learned, I'd still end up choosing a modern piece of kit to do the job quickly, cleanly and efficiently. But then, if I was passing the rules I'd have said these are size and bag limits etc, but "any food you can gather, stark naked, with no mechanical or manufactued by a third party means of access or tools is fair game, provided you eat it in one sitting, there" because that is the human tradition.

But then I have always been a little odd.
Well. Very odd.


  1. Many of the sites found with the earliest examples of H. Habilis are in caves, near the ocean, with lot's of sea shells around. Evolution quickens as predecessors gain better tools, fire and _sea food_.

    All that good fat that helps brain function comes from animal fat. Smarter/stronger becomes more pronounced.....

  2. Although I am in favour of it myself, the big problem with forcing people to use traditional methods of harvesting protected or endangered species is that for a large number of aforementioned prey species the traditional methods no longer work as technological improvements have allowed the humans to wipe out enough of their traditional prey that traditional methods can no longer work.

    In other words they did it to themselves.

    [Now if they also took the effort to attempt to restock the supply to traditional levels, rather than moving onto different species and locales, then this argument would be greeted with much more respect. But no, nature is generally considered a resource to be plundered until there is no more left there to be plundered. <sigh>]

  3. Meat eaters need to lead a very active lifestyle or get their arteries clogged up !

  4. Biren - that depends 1)on the volume of meat- traditional hunter gatherers would have had very low volumes, with occassional binges brought on by the lucky kill of something big, and having no way to store the food. Their lifestyle was active, but they died young (often from injury, disease, or poor nutrition (evidenced by homonid bones). That's very different to modern meat eating, where agriculture, transportation and freezing mean meat in large quantities evey day. In very cold climates with low winter daylight levels animal fats also are a source of vitamin D (which is possible to substitute, but I believe it and the fat/energy for coping with cold is why Western Europeans - particularly from northern countries are so fond of meat and fat.

  5. Quilly, Omega 3 is so tied to brain function, that I have to agree with you. I've often wondered what actually happened homonid evolution wise in the Afar triangle - which would have been swamp/mangrove and rich in seafood back then.

  6. Reverence Pavane "Although I am in favour of it myself, the big problem with forcing people to use traditional methods of harvesting protected or endangered species is that for a large number of aforementioned prey species the traditional methods no longer work as technological improvements have allowed the humans to wipe out enough of their traditional prey that traditional methods can no longer work."

    The un-politically correct answer then is if you as say a ping-ping tribe member wish to be allowed to catch rare and endangered sawtail ducks because that was a ping-ping tradition, but can't because modern hunting has reduced stocks to the point where traditional methods can no longer work... only permitting the traditional method will allow sawtail ducks to recover. And selling sawtail ducks is certainly right out! while modern hunting tools and transport have certainly hurt stocks, it's worth realising that traditional hunter-gatherer populations were low because it was hard to get enough food, particularly at pinch-points

  7. Indeed. One should add "effectively" to the end of my comment.

    I should also mention that my "they did it to themselves" argument was much more focused on "moderns" playing the "tradition" card (such as the Japanese and Norwegians wrt whaling) and continuing hunting with modern equipment, than people who maintain a more traditional life-style (or reasonable fascimile thereof) and which rely on a hunter-gatherer existence for survival. [Such as yourself <grin>]

    Although it didn't really read that way. Mea culpae.

  8. Not just Western Europeans, Dave, although I guess I am from that descent. Some day I will make you Poutine!

  9. Blloonatic - you are quite right. It's just as famous from the Inuit, and I would guess all sorts of other far north-dwellers. I am fairly sure it is genetic at least in part with some North dwellers though.

  10. I saw a Doco once where they theorised that humans were able to scavenge bones once every thing else in the area had their fill, because we used tools to crack the thigh bones to get to the bone marrow, which nothing else could do.