Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Wild Food

This is part of a series that will be published every Wednesday. Again, until I run out of something to write about. The first parts will be quite theoretic.

Wild Food Economics

Economics is a part of every person's life, regardless if you live in the wild or in the modern money economy. For a private economy to be healthy, you have to be spending less resources than you are generating. The main difference between the modern system and when you are living in the wild is that the modern system is based on money, while for a person craving to be self-sufficient, it is all about energy. If you through a long period of time have a lower intake of energy than you are spending, you will die.

Energy Efficiency

How long time you need to go before dying of starvation is dependant on your level of activity. If you are in a lot of activity you need proportionally more food to be able to survive. In extreme cases, it may in fact be impossible to consume enough food to recuperate that same day. You may have to rest for a day or two and, through that time, consume more food than you really need to rebuild the reserves. Expending as little as possible on any activity can be vital in a pressed food situation. The Art of Nothing as proposed by Elpel (1995) is a mindset quite unfamiliar to the modern industrious worker. When there is nothing else to do, the moral is to rest and consequently spend as little energy as possible on activities that doesn't bring food.

While harvesting food the main goal (away from nutritional demands) should also be to expend as little energy as you can. What gives highest output of gathering, fishing and hunting/trapping will vary from environment to environment. The economic concept of alternative investment is valid here too. Although you can subsist on foods with lower input to output ration energy wise there are two reasons why you should always choose the easiest food source:

  • Tomorrow is never certain. If you can build up a stockpile of food or put on some body fat, that will make tomorrow a day of food security.

  • Food gathering is rarely the most exciting activity imaginable, leisure time will always be more desirable.

This way of thinking does not serve to bring any species to extinction. Because, as the specie become more scarce, there will always be easier food sources available. Though, this is only true as long as a technological innovation, that make harvesting easier, doesn't happen.


What is the easiest food will also change on the base of what tools you have available and your level of skill in procuring specific types of food. In a short term survival situation, the most desirable food may be unattainable due to lack of tools to accomplish this. As an example is a fishing net. Making a fishing net require a lot of investment in time and energy. But when it is finished you have a reliable way of getting lots of desirable food: fish. As your situation progresses into long term survival, the food requiring little tools and skill to gather, like vegetables and clams will become less and less important. That is because they generally offer less energy than trapping and fishing versus time and energy expended. Because of this, it is also important to be aware of what you are putting your effort into. If there is something that is meant to be expendable, like throwing or digging sticks often are, there is no reason to make them anything more than serviceable. If a tool require lots of effort to make, but is meant to last only a short time, it may not be worth making.

This brings us over on traps. A trap (nets are really traps too) often require little effort to make and leave you free to attend other business, such a setting more traps. Hunting is normally not a worthwhile activity and hunting tools will most of the time either be for protection or exploiting opportunities that may present themselves.

Protein Poisoning

Although protein poisoning mostly a nutritional problem, it carries some relevance to the economics of food. Rodents often provide easy meat for a primitivist. The problem is that rodents' flesh is normally very lean, containing virtually no fat. Without consuming quite substantial amounts of fat or carbohydrates with the meat, that will result in a type of poisoning that can kill as quickly as any starvation. (Goring 2006, Kochanski 1988)

Next Wednesday: Nutrition

Kochanski, M. (1988), Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival. Edmonton, Lone Pine Publishing.
Elpel, T. J. (1995) The Art of Nothing. Bulletin of Primitive Technology. Issue #10, Fall 1995.
Goring, S (2006) The Reality of Food in the Bush (Part 2). Bushcraft. Issue 2, Summer 2006, pp. 18-21.