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sense. What Sahlins meant was that hunter-gatherers have very limited needs and wants and are able to satisfy them with a minimum of effort. To assess Sahlins’s claim, we need to look carefully at the hunter-gatherer standard of living and at how hard and long hunter-gatherers typically work.

Despite the fact that virtually all contemporary hunter-gatherers exist in marginal environments, these environments often turn out to be surprisingly abundant in resources. For example, Richard Lee (1968) notes that the !Kung San are able to rely on a wide variety of resources of considerable quality. Their most important food source is mongongo nuts, and thousands of pounds of these rot on the ground each year for want of picking. Furthermore, the !Kung habitat contains 84 other species of edible plants, and !Kung gathering never exhausts all the available plant foods of an area. Similarly, James Woodburn (1968) has shown that the Hadza of Tanzania enjoy an exceptional abundance of game, and he thinks it is almost inconceivable that they would die of starvation. It would thus appear that both the !Kung and the Hadza obtain a standard of living that is perfectly adequate in meeting basic human subsistence requirements.

This impression is reinforced by Mark Cohen’s (1989) survey of studies of diet and nutrition among many contemporary hunting and gathering groups. Cohen’s review of numerous studies suggests to him that most hunter-gatherers generally enjoy diets that are fully adequate in nutrition. Some groups, such as the !Kung, may barely obtain a sufficient number of calories, but their diets are otherwise abundant in animal proteins and various nutrients.  Many hunter-gatherers do experience seasonal bouts of hunger and food anxiety, and starvation may sometimes occur (Yesner, 1994). However, there is

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