Those who lead a subsistence existence grow only enough food to feed their family, support their animal’s grazing area or farmland, and perhaps to provide a small marketable surplus.
Subsistence agriculture usually refers to an agrarian lifestyle, which provides just enough food to feed the family, but will not be enough for them to participate extensively in the cash market.
During my two and half years of living in Papua New Guinea we were in the middle of the rainforest with no electricity, no running water, and no road access. In fact, twenty years prior, most of the people in the surrounding villages still practiced cannibalism. Essentially, we lived exactly how everyone else did in the jungles of New Guinea without any of the comforts that most people today take for granted.
A good portion of our life almost every day was spent going to get water, which was approximately a two-mile hike away, and then we had to carry the 5 gallon (that’s 40 pounds) containers back to our bush house. Of course, once there the water had to be boiled to kill off bacteria, which meant we had to go foraging for firewood…you get the point.
The people within the three villages where we worked had very little in terms of material possessions. Nevertheless, they almost always appeared happy and content even though they lived with only the most basic of necessities.
Unfortunately, we lacked proper medical care and treatment facilities, but for this post I am choosing to focus on the positive aspects of subsistence living. Specifically, how we in the “developed” world can learn quite a bit from those who still survive with very few luxuries.
Five tips for a better life based on subsistence living:
Live in the moment and live everyday
I do not know what the average life expectancy was in our New Guinea village but I do know that the people we came in contact with made it a point to find joy everyday whether it was getting together with friends, or something as simple as preparing dinner for the evening.
Low fat diets
Speaking from my experience in Papua New Guinea, there was not one overweight or obese person in our village. The only overweight people you would see were people who had moved to the city, or politicians. Certainly, I am not saying that malnutrition does not exist but when you look at the obesity epidemic in the United States, places that subsist successfully on garden produce have a more healthy diet.
Care for their elderly
This was one of the most profound lessons that I learned. The senior citizens do not get put away into an old persons home. Rather, when they reach a certain age they go and live with a family member and are treated with dignity and respect.
Focus on family instead of external, materialistic forces
Because there is a lack of material goods, televisions, and even the mighty internet, families actually spent time together beyond mealtimes and special gatherings.
People help each other
I saw a post on “Paying it Forward” earlier today and in a subsistence society you really do not have any other option but to help your fellow man. Building bush houses, or clearing many acres of land for a garden are monumental tasks. When work needs to be done whole villages help and assist each other.
Please note, I realize that nirvana does not exist and places where a subsistence existence is the norm can have tremendous issues, not the least of which is healthcare. Also, people must work tirelessly throughout their lives in order to eke out an existence from day to day.
However, I strongly believe that there are some valuable lessons that we could all learn from analyzing the lifestyle of those who survive on a day-to-day basis with only the basic human needs.