DINNER’S READY! HUNTER-GATHERER EDITION

Scott Collins, BHP Teacher
Illinois, USA

Finals have begun, which makes for even longer days, as does entering grades and completing all the other tasks that come with putting a bow on the semester. It’s dark as I leave school. I’m hungry, and the golden arches are shining brightly through my windshield. A quick drive through and two cheeseburgers and steaming-hot, salty fries are in a bag, sitting shotgun. A ready-made meal, just like that, awaiting my consumption. It hasn’t always been this easy. Believe it or not, there were times when you couldn’t order your groceries online and have them delivered to your door! Unit 6.3 of Big History features the Hunter-Gatherer Menu activity, which hearkens back to times when humans had to work much harder for a meal than we do today.

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Cheeseburger and fries by stu_spivak. CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Hunter Gatherer Menu activity asks students to do research on foraging diets and the ways in which our foraging ancestors would have obtained the resources needed to maintain these diets. It asks them to abandon the mindset of today, when so many things are a smart-phone app away, and set themselves next to a campfire of 15,000 years ago with nothing but some tools and an ecosystem full of resources. What would they do then? How would they survive? This activity gets students thinking creatively about the true hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

As I introduce the activity, I ask students to quietly imagine that their desk isn’t a desk, but a downed tree, upon which they’re sitting. I ask them to visualize what the space around us would have been like 15,000 years ago. What would the terrain have been like? The plants? The animals? Would there have been water nearby? They might need to do some historical research about the area if they aren’t sure about its ecological or geological history. Based on their conclusions, they then create a menu including the resources that a hunter-gatherer would have been able to collect 15,000 years ago, at the very spot where our school is located.

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White-tailed deer by USDA photo by Scott Bauer, public domain., CC BY-SA 2.0. Wild blueberry bush by Paul VanDerWerf, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The activity allows students not only to put themselves in the minds of hunter-gatherers, but also to think about the history of the area and what it used to be like geographically and ecologically. This can be difficult for them at first, but a few prompts here and there and the creative juices begin to flow and simmer like a pot of white-tailed deer stew. As they get going and begin to truly adopt the hunter-gatherer mentality, students invariably create dishes that one might see at a five-star restaurant on Randolph Street, about 25 miles north in Chicago. As an extra-credit opportunity, I’ve even allowed students to prepare a dish from their menu on their own time and bring it in to share—a risky, but sometimes rewarding experience for the palate. Have fun with this activity and I assure you, it will be fruitful (see what I did there?).

About the author: Scott Collins is a high school science teacher in Lemont, IL. In addition to BHP, he teaches AP biology, honors biology, and integrated science. His school is on a semester system. Scott’s eleventh- and twelfth-grade BHP classes run about 85 minutes long and focus heavily on the science content. About 60 students per year join him on the 13.8-billion-year journey.

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