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We can now take a look at the plants that the prey animals and humans were likely to encounter in the Kalahari desert. Much of the Kalahari is sand. Therefore, the plants available had to be adaptable to a sandy environment (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.).
The variety of species in the Kalahari desert is relatively poor, compared to other surrounding areas, such as Cape Macchia (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.). There are few above ground plants, such as succulents. Shifting sands make growing in this climate difficult. Plants must be able to establish extremely deep roots in order to survive. For instance, the Camel thorn can have roots up to 40 meters deep and can exploit deep water sources that are inaccessible to other species (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.). However, although this plant has adapted will to the climate, this is still no guarantee that the locals can use it as a food. Many plants of the Kalahari are available in tree and shrub form. However, this is largely a result of animal grazing, rather than species differentiation. Another strategy used by Kalahari plants is the use of a short life cycle. The Devil Thorn completes its entire life cycle from seed germination to seed formation in two weeks.
The wood of the Camel tree is preferred by the Sans for barbeque fires and for warmth (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.). The pods of the Camel Tree make excellent survival rations for animals of the Kalahari (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.). The Shephard tree is another tree of the Kalahari that provides food for the Sans and the desert animals upon which they prey. The fruit is eaten raw or used as a jam. The are used for a coffee substitute and boiled to produce a sweet syrup, or dried and ground into flour. All parts of the plant are used as a medicine or as food (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.).
The Brosdoring is a perennial evergreen shrub that is not consumed by humans, but is consumed by grazers (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.). The Devil's Thorn is another plant that is used by grazers, but not by humans (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.).The Kalahari desert melon is perhaps the single plant responsible for maintaining life in the desert. It is similar to the water melon and is cultivated in drought years (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.). The fruit can remain fresh for up to two years. The fresh fruit provides a source of water (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.). It might be noted that there are no native cactii in the Kalahari desert. Any that are there now have been introduced (Warder, "Plants in the Kalahari Desert," n.d.).
The climate of the Kalahari is the determining factor for all life. Rainfall of the Kalahari occurs in small local patches and can dip below 100 mm annually. The Sans of the Kalahari have survived by following the rainfall and the abundance that it brings. As the herds of grazer move, so do the Sans in order to find plants and animals to sustain them.
Now we have a laundry list of animals and plants that the nomads of the Kalahari use to sustain themselves. Our original quest was to analyze the diet and nutritional content of the Sans. When one looks at the list of available plants and animals, one thing becomes apparent from a nutritional point-of-view. There may be plenty of food, but it is not a very diverse diet. Protein is derived from essentially two primary animals and food from three plants. Fortunately, one of them is a citrus fruit, which may make up vitamin C needs. However, from a nutritionist's lens, the diet of the Sans is lacking in many ways.
We can now look at the individual plant and animal foods, as well as the ratios in which they are consumed to surmise a probable nutritional content for the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert. Fascination with a recent trendy diet craze based on primitive foods has resulted in an abundance of information on the nutritional content of the diets of primitive tribes. The Sans is one of the most studied of modern primitive tribes. Their diet consists of both raw and cooked foods. The following table represents their average dietary consumption.
FOOD % of Diet by Weight g) Protein g) Calories per person per day Meat 31% 230 34.5 690 Mongongo nuts 28% 210 58.8-1,365 Other plant foods 41% 300 3.0 300 TOTAL: 100% 740 96.3-2,355 Source: Tu, http://www.beyondveg.com/tu-j-l/raw-cooked/raw-cooked-3f.shtml
It might be noted that the average male Sans weighs approximately 110 lbs and is 5'3" tall. The caloric intake under this analysis is considered to be adequate (Tu, "Staples of the!Kung Diet"). The mongongo nut is approximately 80% fat. The Sans diet consists mainly of fats and proteins, with a few other nutrients scattered throughout. Although their caloric content is sufficient for their stature, this is not considered to be an adequate diet by modern human standards. The hunter/gatherer may or may not have been aware of nutritional deficiencies. However, due to the limited variety available in their arid climate, they may not have had much choice in fixing the problem.
It can be argued that modern ideals about proper nutrition are culturally based (Heaney, 2001). Therefore, the Sans diet, or the diet of any primitive culture for that matter may be a matter of preference rather than need. There are even those who go as far as to compare our dietary needs to those of higher primate (Milton, 1999). There is new evidence emerging that Neanderthals may not have derived a majority of their protein from plant sources, as previously thought. New evidence sustains that Neanderthals were top predators (Richards et al., 2000). However, wild prey is typically of lower fat content than our domestic animals of today, which invalidates the use of modern animals in an analysis of this type (Milton, 2000). The benefits of this type of diet are a hotly debated topic among researchers (Milton, 2001; Walker, 2001).
This exercise has given us a means to analyze the diets of both primitive and modern cultures in any climate or locale. The desert is a harsh environment for humans, yet there are primitive and modern cultures that survive in these regions. This study used the Sans of the Kalahari as an example of how to conduct such an analysis. These people were used because they represent a traditional lifestyle that dates back thousands of years, yet we can observe them firsthand to check our findings. This method works well for analyzing an isolated culture of hunter/gatherers in a particular region. However, as trade develops, one has to consider these effects on the diet as well.
Members of an isolated culture are limited to the plants and animals that are available in the region. Extinction and other acts of nature that threaten the diversity of plants and animals in the region also effect the abundance and variety of foods available for the hunter/gatherer tribe. As one can see, the Sans have survived on a limited diet that is lacking in nutritional variation. The next logical step in the analysis would be to examine any nutritionally derived diseases, but that is beyond the scope of this examination.
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