gatherers; and a pointer will also be given to more extensive information available about disease incidence elsewhere on the site.)
We cannot here review the voluminous hunter-gatherer literature exhaustively. However, a few examples looked at in some depth will help to get an idea on the subject. Covered here are Australian Aborigines, the San Bushmen of the Kalahari desert in Africa (with primary emphasis on the well-known !Kung tribe), and the Inuit ("Eskimos").
The diet of Australian Aborigines has been extensively studied by O'Dea. The most detailed information exists for Aborigines of Northwest Australia. During a two-week period, intake of various foodstuffs was measured [O'Dea, 1984]. Animal food contributed to 64% of total energy intake. Main staples were antelope kangaroo (36%), freshwater bream [a fish] (19%), and yams (28%). All other listed foods accounted for only 17% of total energy intake.
Aboriginal cooking practices. The following information about cooking methods of Australian Aborigines is quoted from http://online.anu.edu.au/Forestry/fire/ecol/as34.htm:
Cooking fires usually suited the food to be prepared. They were controlled by a range of techniques such as using different types of timber, twigs or leaves. Hot stones were ample to fry Bogong moths; small banks of coals suited marsupial rodents; somewhat larger, specially shaped hearths baked cakes, cooked tubers, and leached toxins from various foodstuffs. Kangaroos were usually cooked where they were killed and required larger, temporary fires. The cooking proceeded in stages--the carcass would be singed on both sides, then removed and scraped clear of fur, gutted and thrown back into the coals for deep roasting [Pyne 1991, p. 89]. Heated stones were useful to open hard fruits and explode Acacia seeds.
Cockles (mollusks)--consumed by the tens of millions--were prepared for eating by heaping the shells into piles, then topping the mound with a small fire, which heated the valves sufficiently to pop them open without the need for breakage [Pyne 1991, p. 89]. Perhaps the most sophisticated cooking fire was that made on a layer of clay or seaweed and carried in the bottom of the bark canoes used by fishing parties [Nicholson 1981, p. 63].
The ever-handy firestick carried by the Aborigines ensured that cooking fires could be manufactured when and where required.
|Food cooked by the Aborigine
Overview: cooking may be necessary to render the available foods edible. Detailed information about plant foods consumed by Aborigines can be found at http://osprey.erin.gov.au/anbg/aboriginal-trail.html, from which the bullet-point information below is quoted. Of the many plant foods consumed by the Aborigine, some were eaten raw, others cooked. For some plants, information about food preparation is not available. The list below is not exhaustive, but provides a good overview of the way plant foods are processed, and shows that, in some cases, cooking is necessary to render the food edible.
GO TO NEXT PART OF ARTICLE
- Alocasia macrorrhizos (Cunjevoi). [New South Wales, Queensland] The swollen stems are starchy and fibrous, but are poisonous if eaten raw, causing the mouth and throat to swell, sometimes fatally. The Queensland Aborigines repeatedly roasted and pounded the plant to remove the poison. Cunjevoi is an Aboriginal name from southern Queensland.
- Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya Pine). [Queensland] When this tree is mature it will bear large green cones, and inside each scale of the cone will be found a hard-shelled nut about 5 cm [2 inches] long. These nuts were such a popular food that tribes came from hundreds of kilometres around the Bunya Mountains in southern Queensland to feast on them.
Particular trees were considered to be the property of certain Aboriginal families, but everyone was invited to share the delicious nuts, which are not unlike chestnuts when roasted in the fire.
Although found only in Queensland, Bunya Pines have been planted in the southern Australian states, and the nuts may sometimes be bought in Sydney markets. They can be boiled or roasted.
- Dendrobium speciosum (Rock or King Orchid). [New South Wales, Queensland] The swollen stems were beaten to break up the fibre and then cooked on hot stones.
- Doryanthes excelsa (Gymea Lily). [New South Wales] The flowering stems grow up to 4 meters [13 feet] high, but were cut when young, about 0.5 meters [20 inches] long and thicker than a man's arm, and roasted. The roots were also roasted and made into a sort of cake.
- Macrozamia spp. (Burrawangs). [New South Wales, The Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia] The seeds of these and other cycads are borne in a large cone and have an orange outer coat. [Note: A cycad is a palmlike, cone-bearing evergreen tree native to warm regions.] They are poisonous, but the Aborigines knew how to treat them to remove the poison, and so take advantage of the large amount of food provided by a single plant. One of the ways was to cook the seed, break it up, and then soak it for up to three weeks in running water. In Western Australia, only the outer red part was eaten, after treatment by washing and burying.
- Microseris lanceolata (Murnong or Yam-daisy). [New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia] This small perennial plant was the favourite food of the Aborigines of central and western Victoria, and was also eaten in South Australia and New South Wales. It has a radish-shaped tuber, which is renewed each year. In the spring the plant forms a yellow flower-head like a dandelion, and in the summer the leaves die off and the tuber becomes dormant. The tubers were cooked in baskets in an earth oven, producing a dark sweet juice which was much liked. Once a common plant, Murnong became scarce due to grazing by sheep.
(Cooking Practices and Staple Foods of the !Kung San--Kalahari Desert, Africa)
Return to beginning of article
SEE REFERENCE LIST
SEE TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR: PART 1 PART 2 PART 3
GO TO PART 1 - Is Cooked Food "Toxic"?
GO TO PART 2 - Does Cooked Food Contain Less Nutrition?
GO TO PART 3 - Discussion: 100% Raw vs. Predominantly Raw
Back to Research-Based Appraisals of Alternative Diet Lore