The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

The cost of gathering: Food choices and energy expenditure among the Baka, a forager-horticultural  society from southeastern Cameroon


Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

April 17, 2020 3:30PM, Diamond 2 Add to calendar

Models about food choices and dietary behavior in the past often make simplistic assumptions about the relative costs of different foraging behaviors. With the Baka, a forager-horticultural group in Cameroon, we have been exploring the drivers of food behaviors, including food preferences and energetic costs of foods, especially wild edible plants.

We measured the energy spent by the Baka during their daily subsistence activities, using GPS trackers - heart rate monitors and time allocation recalls. A total of 246 records were gathered among 153 Baka adults (97 women and 56 men) from four different villages. We compare the metabolic equivalent of task -MET- of activities related to food acquisition and preparation.

While crop harvesting and agricultural work have the highest MET (mean±sd 8.3±1.8; 6.9±2.2 respectively), the MET of gathering activities (6.8±2.8 ) was higher than those of fishing and hunting activities (6.4±1.4; 6.3±2.4 respectively). More interestingly, the gathering of wild nuts in particular required more energy than all other activities (9.5±5.1).

While gathering of wild plants is frequently considered as low cost and high productivity, our results show that gathering, of certain plants in particular, might be more effort-demanding than other subsistence activities. We discuss these insights by putting them in the overall framework of drivers of food behaviors, merging them with the cultural and environmental factors that might explain Baka food choices and the place of wild edible plants in their diet.

This project was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program [grant number STG–677576 (“HARVEST”)].