We Are What We Eat

We Are What We Eat

After traveling to five different countries (Greenland, Bolivia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Crete) in search of the origins of the human diet, Matthieu Paley comes to the last stop in his journey, Tanzania.


3 - 12+


Social Studies, World History


Kongolobe Berries

The Hadza people of Tanzania rely on hunting animals and gathering wild fruits and vegetables for food, such as these colorful kongolobe berries (Grewia bicolor)​​​​​​​.

Photograph by Matthieu Paley
The Hadza people of Tanzania rely on hunting animals and gathering wild fruits and vegetables for food, such as these colorful kongolobe berries (Grewia bicolor)​​​​​​​.
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I am a photographer. I take pictures for National Geographic magazine. 

I came to Tanzania to look for a community that doesn't get any of its food from the outside world. I wanted to find a people who get their food the old way. Everything they ate had to be gathered, hunted, grown or herded. Nothing could come from supermarkets.

I decided to visit the Hadza people. They have the oldest food customs on Earth.

The meat the Hadza eat comes only from hunting. They hunt with bow and arrow, not guns. To experience a Hadza hunt, I went along with two hunters. Their names were Kauda and January.

We walked for three days in search of game. We shot at a warthog, but the arrow just bounced off its head. Other animals were too far away to shoot at.

Then, we saw a huge giraffe in the distance. January took off his sandals to avoid making noise and slowly crept closer. When he was close enough he carefully aimed and shot off a poisoned arrow.

Tracking a Giraffe

January's arrow went in near the giraffe's stomach. We then followed the wounded animal for over an hour. It started to wobble as the poison took effect. Still, it didn't fall. After a while, January said we needed to return to camp before it got dark. We would continue in the morning.

The next day, we set out to look for the giraffe, but the track had grown faint. The giraffe had survived the poison and moved on. 

On our way back to the camp, Kaunda spotted a hyrax and managed to kill the creature. It looked like a large rat, though hyraxes are distantly related to elephants. That was the end of my hunting story. Instead of a giraffe, we had to settle for a small, ratlike creature.

The Hadza are not like most people in the modern world. They do not grow crops, herd animals or even store any food. There is nothing to eat at camp in the morning. Each day, they walk in the surrounding plain and gather berries, honey, potato-like tubers, and baobab-fruits. And yes, sometimes they kill animals. However, they do not hunt for cruel fun or out of greed. They do it only to feed themselves and their people.

Hadza Leave no Traces Behind

Our ancestors lived the same way at some point in history. The Hadza show us what life was once like for all humans. They are one of the oldest peoples on Earth, perhaps the very oldest. Some scientists believe they have been where they are for 50,000 years.

The Hadza travel from place to place, with no fixed home. They live in camps made of twigs covered with grass. When they leave a camp behind, the twigs and grass fall off and go back into the earth. There are no piles of garbage or other traces left behind. Over thousands of years, the Hadza have caused no damage to their environment.

What struck me most about the Hadza is how happy they seem. In their language, there is no word for "worry." Worrying is related to either the future or the past. The Hadza truly live in the moment. When you spend your time focusing on the present moment, on each day, there is no need for worrying about unimportant things. The Hadza may have something to teach us about living.

Article originally published on December 10, 2014, this material has been adapted for educational use.

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
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Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
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Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
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Last Updated

January 22, 2024

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