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As you may suspect, there are many ways of preparing and cooking food procured in the wild. Often, we get lucky and bag a rabbit, or perhaps a squirrel. Yep, I know all about making Apache foot snares (often used for deer) and huge figure four traps, but lets be honest here, the odds are remote that you will feed on venison or bear in a survival situation. Most game procured will be small game, unless you have a gun along. It you have a gun and lot’s of game in the area, then this article isn’t for you. Most of us will have to settle for less for dinner.
When we enter “nature’s supermarket”, most of us may be lost in more ways than one. The foods we are used to seeing just aren’t there. Or, at least they don’t look the same way we would expect them look. Keep in mind, many of the foods we now purchase were once, and may still be, wild in the woods. What do you know about vegetables? Do you know that certain vegetables grow under ground and some on top of the ground? Nonetheless, many folks have no idea what is eatable and what isn’t once they leave the house.
I suggest you do some research and find out as much about wilderness food procurement as you can. There are many good books out there and lots of great web sites on wild foods. I also recommend that you buy and carry a good survival manual, either the USAF Aircrew Survival Pamphlet or the SAS Survival Guide. Both publications have information on how to identify poisonous and non-poisonous plants. And, since it is very likely that the most common things in the bush will supply a large portion of our “wilderness diet”, lets look at wilderness food sources a little closer.
If it is not winter, you may be able to rustle up a nice meal of insects. They are usually out in abundance and all we have to do is gather them up. What? You don’t like the idea of eating bugs? Common sense tells us that insects are usually there, we are hungry, so, why not get together for a meal? Now, I have to admit, bugs aren’t my favorite meal, but they can help keep you alive.
Insects are very rich in fat and protein, of which both are important to the survivor (click on my nutrition page to see why). While many insects may be eaten raw, most people prefer them cooked (in some cases, like ants, cooking should be done to remove poisons). I personally think the best way to cook them is to add them to a “survival stew”, which is a just a mix of all the various things you were able to find that day. On the larger insects, remove the wings and legs. I suggest you do this so the sharp spines on the legs don’t injure your throat, or cause you to choke while swallowing. I do not recommend the beginner bite into an insect. It is sorta like a candy filled with a special middle, but without the great taste. It is important to consider the fact that most of our aversion to the eating of insects is cultural and psychological. In many cultures insects are eaten regularly.
Insects can be found under rocks, inside of dead logs, obviously on anthills, and in nooks and crannies. Be extra careful when looking for insects, because snakes, scorpions and other biting or stinging critters like to stay in the same places. Wear gloves if you have them and use caution while shopping for dinner. Avoid placing your hands in dark hole or other places you cannot see. Make noise, and keep your eyes scanning from side to side to avoid snakes.
If you happen to see a snake, very carefully kill it with a large rock or long stick. Then carefully cut the head off (the head and fangs are still dangerous even when removed from the body), gut it lengthwise, skin it, and cut it into cubes. At that point I suggest it be added to the stew pot for the day. I usually bury a poisonous snakes head in a hole at lest 12” deep. That keeps others from stepping on the head, which still contains the fangs and poison. If you are unsure if the snake is poisonous or not, then treat it at all times as if it is poisonous. And, yes, both poisonous and non-poisonous snakes can be safely eaten.
Now, back to insects. Avoid any insects that are found in animal carcasses, dung, or trash. They may carry diseases or parasites. Also, any insect you see that has a bright body color, or is hairy, try to avoid. Some may be eaten, but many are poisonous. It is easier to remember to just avoid them, than try to identify those that are safe to eat. You should be able to find plenty of worms, ants, grasshoppers, and other bugs to make a meal.
Lets look at the big three…Worms, Ants and Grasshoppers. Worms may be eaten raw or cooked. I suggest you rinse them off to avoid getting the sand or dirt grit in your teeth. Do not confuse worms with grubs, and there is a difference. Some grubs, especially those found on the underside of leaves, may contain toxins. I would suggest you avoid them. But, worms can be dried, crushed, and then added to soups. Or, just eaten raw.
Ants, on the other hand, may have a painful bite (formic acid). However, by cooking them for about six or seven minutes the toxins are destroyed. Then, they may be eaten as is, or added to soups. There is only real problem with this readily available food source, is it takes a whole lot of ants to make a meal. However, they do add protein and fat to your diet. Keep in mind; even the huge grizzly bear eats them.
Grasshoppers can be knocked from the air with a shirt, fishing net, or with a piece of cloth. Remember to remove the wings, antennae, and legs before eating them. I suggest they be placed on a flat rock near the fire and cooked. Or, if you have a pot, pan, skillet, or an empty can, roast them in the container. Once cooked, they may be added to soups or stews. Some people prefer to crush them and dry them into a powder before eating them. The method you use is up to you. Of course, some people are capable of sitting around a campfire late at night eating them raw as you might eat potato chips. I have not been able to overcome, completely anyway, my squeamishness of eating raw grasshoppers. But, if I had to eat them to survive, bring on the meal.
Whether you know it or not, you may be eating insects, or parts of insects, every day. You just aren’t aware of it. Most food companies have guidelines that detail the allowable percentage of insects in their product. I am not telling you this to gross you out, but stating the facts. Does it make a difference to your body if you know about the insect you ingest or not?
When you consider the nutritional value of insects to a survivor, we would have to be complete fools not to add them to the dining menu. I will be the first to admit, they are not the most appetizing, but they do serve a purpose. That purpose is keeping you alive until you are rescued.