Hunter-Gatherer Diet In South America

“First world problems”

In our society we are quite often hopping on a bandwagon to boycott something or the other. Sometimes when we believe in one cause we are expected to annihilate the other side, but that is not the way life is. Or is it?

On a  trip to Guyana, SA two years ago I lived a mostly hunter-gatherer diet for a few days.


There were priceless moments; nothing beats the taste of sun-ripe mangoes from an ancient tree, believe me the juice is sweeter than honey. Or the aromas of boiling cassavas and taro roots wafting out of a blackened pot over a coal fire.


I learnt to make eggplants stuffed with garlic then roasted on the smoky grill, I learnt how to scrape the soft flesh from the skin and how to smash it with roasted tomatoes and shallots.

I adored the taste of fresh-caught trout that was gutted and cleaned right at the creek’s edge then pan-fried with wild herbs.

It’s impossible to explain the aliveness of one’s senses first thing in the mornings. There is sense of peace and hope in greeting the cool dawn, a feeling of utter contentment waiting for the coffee to boil, taking deep breaths laden with the scents of warm sand, cool rainforest air, dew-heavy flowers, and boiling coffee. It’s heaven.

I wonder if I felt more alive in the mornings because I had lived through the night in a hammock slung between two trees in the depths of a jungle?


My most favourite time was spent swimming in amber creeks with sparkling white sandy bottoms.


Those were moments that will last a lifetime.

One day on the hunt for food


The two guides and I gathered wood for the fire and fetched water from the rain barrel to make morning coffee – instant coffee crystals imported from England with Canadian skimmed milk powder and dark brown sugar boiled up in an old pot over a wood fire.


We went on a  5-miles walk to the “next-door” neighbours place to barter dried smoked fish for root vegetables. We used our cutlasses to chop our way loudly through the thick vegetation – to  scare away snakes, and to warn predators of our presence.

On the way back we foraged for wild greens and herbs and we stopped at the creek to catch a couple of fishes, bathe, and quench our thirsts.

guide 2

We gathered more wood, started the fire, cooked the root vegetables, and waited for the fish to “bite”.

They cleaned the fish and threw the trimmings back into the water where strange creatures with vicious teeth rushed to the surface and devoured the discards.

During the lunch meal we planned the rest of the day’s activities: hunt for dinner.

We paddled up the creek to look for tracks along the shore, we set traps for an animal, any animal.


We  fetched back pails of creek water for the plants, gathered more wood for the night fires, and cleaned the camp.


Back we paddled  to check the traps.


The trap’s offering was an Agouti (a rodent-like animal). We had to fast-paddle it back to prepare dinner before the dark of night arrived.


Dinner was agouti stew with fuzzy squash (a zucchini like gourd) and lots of onions and wild herbs.


We walked single file in the inky night to have the evening bath at the edge of the water –  far away from alligators and such. On the way there and back we had to be noisy in order to scare away predators.


Their carbon footprint is minimal (except for the imported milk and coffee) their life is dedicated to finding food. Every single meal took hours of planning and hunting and prepping.


Days later as I headed to the city in the back of a pick-up truck I was a few pounds lighter and a few lovely shades darker. More importantly because of my far-reaching experience, I had a clear sighted understanding of the radical differences between the two lifestyles:

– My guides chose to be who they are, they chose to be free, or alternately be subservient to someone else for one square a day. They chose not to toil away in the backyards of the rich. Opportunities are almost non-existent for them, there is no such thing as welfare, low income housing or unemployment insurance, heck there are no jobs much less job training.

– I discovered a newfound respect and love for our farmers and for being Canadian. As a Canadian we choose to be free, to embrace life in safety, to think logically before making a decision, before imparting an opinion. We choose to love what we have, our rules and regulations, our opportunities, our blessings.


Here at home we can go to the farmers market to get seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and eggs and cheeses.


We can grow our own herbs and lettuces on the balcony.


We can also eat bananas in the winter, or get lemons whenever we want. We are supporting other farmers and cultures so they can in turn trade with us for what they cannot grow.

We can all make small changes by sourcing out seasonal and local fruits and vegetables (most fruits and some vegetables can be frozen, fermented and/or canned for the off season). Cabbages and squashes are available late into the year. Most root vegetables are produced long into the fall and keeps well for many months

Avoid fish that was caught here, sent to offshore processing plants and then shipped back to us. Try to buy fresh fish, shellfish and seafood from our local fishermen or from our local fish and seafood farms. Make a concerted effort to read every label or ask the butcher about the origins of the beef, chicken, pork and lamb.

I buy Greek feta, Italian cheeses and Polish kasha for the sheer indulgence of it but I will always drink BC  ethically produced milk, yogurts and butter.

I only use Greek olive oil mainly because it is a guaranteed one-homestead product, it’s usually thicker, greener and healthier.

That’s the world today, we all need each other or chaos will reign – some countries will produce too much and some countries will produce too little.

Living within our seasons and the seasons of other cultures, will most assuredly reduce greenhouse emissions.

Eating supply driven foods (local and imports) instead of demanding out of season produce will make a huge difference in industries around the world.

Consuming less unnecessary foods (prepared) and wasting less fresh foods will save (part of ) the day.

We must find that sweet balance that is not destructive but constructive. Slowly but surely we will.


Until next time keep up with my local community/sustainable/gluten-free travels on twitter @glutenfreesam and for even more stories check out the

Samantha McLeod

Vancouver based food and travel writer.

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