A chilling study of how starvation dehumanises people was carried out by an anthropologist, Colin Turnbull, in the late 1950s and detailed in his controversial book, The Forest People.
They were the Teuso (sometimes called Ik), a tribe in Uganda who were denied their traditional hunting grounds by the government’s establishment of a national game park.
The Teuso were subsistence farmers and their rocky land didn’t produce much; they relied on hunting for most of their food. For the next two years they were in a state of semi-starvation and it was during this period that Turnbull lived with them.
Their behaviour quickly became what we, well-fed in the 21st century West, would regard as revolting. They were intensely occupied with food, compulsive. When anyone found food they gorged, and hid any leftovers even from their children, spouse, or parents.
They lost compassion for their fellow tribesmen. One mother even was pleased when her baby was carried away by a leopard, because she would not have to feed it, and the leopard would be sleeping off its meal within hunting distance (and the tribe did hunt and eat the leopard).
They lost all sense of community and connection to one another. They lost all sexual interest and did not even flirt. They lost their religion and all sense of moral obligation.
Essentially they lived in isolation, rarely speaking to anyone else.
When relief efforts finally brought food to the tribe, their behaviour did not change. They still hoarded food, gorged, and lived emotionally isolated lives.
In later years other anthropologists reported that the tribe’s behaviour seemed to be more normal for African families, loving and affectionate, but it seems it took a number of years of reliable food supplies before that happened.
The Minnesota Starvation Study predicted this behaviour though – no surprises there except that the starvation was voluntary and had an end date.
Which makes one wonder if the breakdown in community we’re experiencing, the bitchy competition, the loss of compassion and the epidemic of depression are in any way related to the cultural obsession with being thin, as millions of women live in a state of semi-starvation every day for most of their lives, with no end in sight?
Well, it makes me wonder anyway………