The easy-going hunter-gather life. Or not.

How many times have you read something like the following?

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. . . The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.

I've read variations on that theme so often, I assumed it must be (at least partially) true during the early stages of the agricultural revolution.  (The above quote is from a recent, bestselling book by Yuval Noah Harari)

In a post a few days ago, Rachael Laudan makes a compelling case against this conventional wisdom.  In short she challenges the way anthropologists and other researchers classified "work" for hunger-gatherers vs. agriculturalists.  It seems, these researchers didn't take food processing into account.

She re-visits the supposedly lax lives of hunter-gathers, focusing in the following passage on what it takes to turn collected nuts into food (i.e., food processing).   

8 hours a week spent cracking mongongo nuts (minimum, not clear if this includes preliminary cooking to soften the shell or subsequent time extracting the kernel), p. 270

4-7 hours a week spent making and repairing tools (35-64 mins daily), p.277.

15-22 hours a week spent on butchery, meat cooking, and fuel collection (2.2-3.2) p. 278 (no mention of carrying water in ostrich shells)

In short, between 27 and 37 hours a week spent by each adult on food processing and ancillary activities: fuel, water and tools.

Assume an eight-hour work day. Therefore: 3.5-4.5 days a week spent on food processing, tools, fuel, and water.

That is, given any reasonable sense of work, bushmen spent more time dealing with the food they collected than collecting it.

As so often, food processing for humans takes longer than food production or collection.

And the total work week for the bushmen on the lowest of estimates turns out to be between 6 and 7 eight-hour days (not counting child care).

There's a lot more at the original post.

It's sometimes said that sacred cows make the tastiest burgers.