From Hunting and Gathering to Drive Thrus and Microwaves: How Much Time do we Spend Eating and Drinking?

All modern humans were hunter-gatherers from 2,000,000 until 10,000 years ago, spending most of their time looking for food.  Everyday activites were looking for  berries and nuts, and hunting animals.  Stone Age people moved from place to place looking for food, but they stayed in one place as long as there was food and water.

Eventually people learned to grow their own fruits and vegetables, which was the start of the agricultural revolution. People built small mud houses and began to tame and keep animals.

Over dinner last night, I was thinking about how much time I spend preparing my food and the change in our eating (and hunting patterns)  that has occurred in the last 10,000 years.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey (ATUS) collects information on how Americans spend their time—on paid work, household activities, child care, recreation, and numerous other activities. There is a eating and health section that is done, which contains questions on whether respondents ate or drank while engaged in other activities, such as driving or watching TV; general health, height, and weight; participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program); children’s consumption of meals obtained at day care, school, or summer programs; grocery shopping and meal preparation; and household income.

The results from the study in 2008 showed that on an average day in 2008, Americans age 15 and older spent 67 minutes eating and drinking as a “primary,” or main, activity, and 28 minutes eating and 81 minutes drinking (except plain water) as a secondary activity.  A secondary activity is multitasking- where a person is —eating while engaged in another activity considered primary by the individual. Such as watching television, driving a car, working, etc.

With the agricultural revolution we have greatly adapted how we get our food and the way we live, but our bodies are still pretty similar to what it was 10,000 years ago.  Today spend a lot less time working on getting food to eat and spend more time working and living our “modern way of life.”

There are  still a few parts of the world that still hunt and gather food, and resist changing to our modern agricultural systems such as in Western Australia or in the Andaman Islands.

Since our ancestors spent so much time hunting our bodies developed the “human fight or flight response.”   This is our response to stress – which in hunting  would result aggressive, combative behavior or by fleeing potentially threatening situations.  It is debatable if our  stress level and if our fight or flight response is more active more or less today.   It is proven athat we spend a lot less time worrying, getting, and preparing our food.

USDA – Economic Research Service – Eating and Health Module (2008)


USDA – Economic Research Service – Eating and Health Module (2008)

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