2011-07-27

Survival Guide: Find food

In any survival situation, it is important to stay calm and well-hydrated. In situations which become more long-term, one must find shelter and possibly build a fire for warmth. When the length of time before rescue is too long, food becomes a major priority.

In today's article, I'm going to go over some tips for finding food in the wilderness. I've divided this article into two sections: plants and animals. Plants provide an excellent, easy to access, source of energy (in the form of carbohydrates). Animals, meanwhile, can be a source of protein and fat, which can be essential to your body's needs in a long-term survival situation. However, some people choose not to consume other creatures. As I have stated in previous articles, I think knowledge is essential to survival and I encourage you to learn what skills may be necessary for your survival, but out of respect for the life-choices of others, I have clearly indicated the division between the two sections.

PLANTS
When consuming plants, it is always important to "use your senses" and follow the edibility test which I presented in the previous article. That said, I will not focus on that in this article. Instead, I am going to present some general points to remember when for foraging for plants which may be safe to eat (after testing).
- Do NOT eat any plant with milky sap.
- Do NOT eat any plant with white berries.
- Do NOT eat any mushrooms. No mushrooms. If you choose poorly, you will die; you will not simply fall ill, you will drop dead.
- Do NOT eat any plant that looks spoiled, rotten, or with fungus.
- Avoid any plants which smell like almonds.
- Avoid plants near roads and man-made structures. They may be contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals.
- Boiling plants can help lessen any bitter taste.
- Boiling also kills any parasites.
- Do NOT touch or eat any plant with a three-leaf arrangement.
- Watch what other animals eat. Those plants may also be edible to humans.
- Watermelon, papaya, and celery are some of the most moisture-rich fruits and vegetables in the world. Look for these and similar plants for a quick hydration boost.
- Cacti, and other succulents, contain a lot of moisture, but not all are safe to consume.
- Try to select abundant plants, so as to hopefully find a reliable source of energy.

I would highly recommend learning in advance about the edible plants in the area. Furthermore, you may want to pack a small booklet of common edible plants into your pack for faster identification.


WARNING: If taking another creature's life to sustain yourself causes you discomfort, even in the gravest of situations, stop reading now.

Please know that I greatly value the life of every creature. I understand the balance of natural survival and hope that the information I present here will not be mistaken nor misrepresent the respect I have for the creatures which could possibly become prey.


It is entirely possible to subsist on a diet of only plants. However, there are circumstances in which the continuance of your life may depend on taking the life of another creature. Originally, I had planned to present everything necessary for the capture, killing, preparing, cooking, and eating of animals in this article. However, during my own research, I came across a site which provided an impressive assortment of survival articles. That site is Wilderness-Survival.net and it has an especially well-presented section on using animals for food.

I am going to summarize certain animal types and briefly touch on their preparation as food, while I cite the detailed articles found on the Wilderness Survival site. (NOTE: If that site ever becomes unavailable, I will certainly revisit this article and increase its detail.)

ANIMALS
(See the Wilderness Survival: "Animals for Food" page for more details. NOTE: My opinion may differ from that article in some areas.)

INVERTEBRATES
- Insects and other arthropods are a great source of protein.
- Insect larvae, sometimes called "grubs", can be found in cool, damp places like in rotten logs and under rocks. These can be eaten raw, but may be more palatable when cooked.
- Grasshoppers and crickets, to put it simply, are delicious. Look for them in fields. I recommend roasting them before eating; also, remove the legs.
- Collect ants using a stick, dip the stick into a container of water, then boil. Drink as a "tea".
- Earthworms can (and I think should) be eaten raw. Drown them first, they'll clean themselves out of any foreign material as they die; called "purging".
- Slugs and snails can be eaten raw, but are probably better cooked. You may also want to "purge" them before cooking and eating.
- Cooked crustaceans (crab, lobster, crayfish) are edible.
- Do NOT eat these: mollusks (oysters, clams, etc.), disease carriers (flies, mosquitoes, ticks, etc.), and poison predators (centipedes, scorpions, and spiders).
- Easy rule to follow: If it has eight or more legs (and it's not a crustacean), do NOT eat it.
FISH
- Freshwater fish are safe, they are not poisonous.
- I recommend that you cook all fish before eating. It will kill any parasites (in freshwater fish) and lessen the chance of "fish poisoning" (in saltwater fish).
- Watch out for defensive barbs on catfish.
- Saltwater fish should be carefully put through edibility testing.
- Do NOT eat spoiled fish. Only eat them fresh.
AMPHIBIANS
- I think you should simply avoid eating amphibians (frogs, salamanders, toads, etc.), however some can be safely eaten.
- NEVER touch or eat any brightly colored frog, especially those with an "X" on their back.
- Do NOT eat toads. Many secrete poison which will make you very ill.
REPTILES
- Catching some reptiles may be more dangerous (crocodiles, vipers, etc.) than others, but most are good sources of protein and can be quite abundant where other sources of food are scarce.
- Do NOT eat turtles. Some carry toxins in their skin. Better safe, than dead.
- Before preparing a snake for eating, remove the head and at least 15 cm (6 in) of its neck. Bury the head and neck.
- Roast reptiles over a fire on a spit (stick) to give the meat better flavor.
BIRDS
- All birds are edible.
- Try to catch birds as they fly from nest to water/feeding areas.
- When preparing birds, choose plucking over skinning. The skin is very nutritious.
MAMMALS
- The bigger the animal, the bigger the fight. Be careful how much energy and danger you put yourself in.
- As a general rule, avoid eating liver. Some creatures' livers contain deadly levels of Vitamin A.
- Avoid eating scavengers, as they may carry diseases.

KILLING
Again, please do not read further if the subject disturbs you. Honestly, I think it should feel unsettling. This is the act of taking another creature's life in order to sustain your own. Respect and honor your prey.
- Killing should be as quick as possible to minimize the creature's suffering.
- For vertebrates, decapitation or severing the spinal column are fastest. If using a blade, cut between neck vertebrae at the base of the head.
- As disgusting as it is, breaking a neck is not as portrayed in movies, the head must be twisted almost entirely around (even off) before the spinal column is cut. This may be very difficult if attempted on larger animals with strong neck muscles.
- Cutting open the throat and/or jugular (arteries supplying blood to the brain) will kill the animal in under a minute.
- Blunt force to the head may kill smaller creatures and stun larger ones. Sever the spinal column if unsure that the creature is dead.
- Suffocation, strangulation, and drowning will be effective for all creatures. (Please understand that, in my opinion, this is the worst way to die. I implore you to use another means to kill the creature or choose smaller prey, such as insects, fish, or birds.)

PREPARATION
For further details about the preparation of animals as food, see the Wilderness Survival: "Preparation of fish and game for cooking and storage" page.
- The larger the animal, the more preparation necessary before consumption.
- Some animals will need to be bled before preparation.
- Some animals will need to be skinned.
- It may be possible to prepare the meat of some animals in a way to preserve it's edibility for a longer duration.
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