Saturday, June 27, 2009

Foraging Calories

Time for another post of food, friends! Today's subject: foraging for high-energy foods in the wilds.

There's a general rule of thumb stating that a person at rest will naturally burn calories equal to ten times their body weight and a person doing strenuous work burns twenty times their weight in calories. For example, I weigh 196 pounds. If for some unknown reason I ended up stuck on the couch all day watching tv I'll burn approximately 196 x 10 = 1960 calories just through normal metabolic processes. Now get me moving, say hiking, chopping wood, building a shelter, or other common woodland activities and now I'll need 196 x 20 = 3920 calories. A top athlete like Lance Armstrong will burn 6000 calories a day when racing, but that's an extreme example.

So, I've decided to shuck civilization and return to the pastorial perfect life of a Native American (or other indigenous tribe local to your area). Book in hand and knife in my belt, off I head to live free and easy, looking forward to gleaning Mother Nature's bountiful harvest. After a hard day's labor walking miles into the bush followed by setting up a primitive shelter I'm famished. Let's see what I'll need to eat to get my strength back.

First, let's look at the calorie content of some common, "civilized" foods:
Snickers Bar...........136 calories per oz
Peanut butter..........168 calories per oz
Whole wheat flour......97 calories per oz
Baked potato (plain)...26 calories per oz

A regular Snickers bar weighs 2oz, so I would need over fourteen Snickers bars to give me the day's required energy. A large potato weighs about 10oz, so I would need to eat fifteen baked potatoes to keep my strength up. Yowza!

However, no indigenous people were known to have independently developed Snicker technology. They plucked their calories from the Earth, so let's take a look at how much nuts, berries, and roots I'll need to eat.

Acorns................112 calories per oz
Pecans................197 calories per oz
Apple..................15 calories per oz
Cattail tuber..........19 calories per oz
Blackberries...........12 calories per oz
Spinach (raw)...........7 calories per oz

Nuts are definitely the main source of non-animal-based calories in the wild. I would need to eat 35oz (2.2 lbs) of acorn nut meat, which means collecting somewhat more than that weight of acorns as I need to shell, crush, then extract the tanin from them before eating. Pecans do much better, I'd only need to eat 20oz of shelled pecan nut meat.

The problem is nuts are only available for limited times in the woods. When they are out of season you'll have to fall back on to fruits & roots for calories. Unfortunately, these have approximately 1/5 the calories of nuts. One of most common sources of calories in the woods are greenbrier roots.
greenbriar root.jpg
Greenbrier root, slightly less calories per oz than a potato. I'd have to eat close to twenty of these. Sidenote: they don't taste very good. Cattail tubers have even fewer calories, especially in the summer months. I'll need twelve pounds of them a day to keep my motor running!

If I can find some sort of berry there had better be twenty pounds of them ready to eat and that's just for one day. I don't think even I could eat twenty pounds of fresh berries. Drying them will greatly increase the mass-to-calorie ratio but that takes time and it'd still require eating several pounds of the dried fruit. Think what eating 2-3 pounds of prunes would do to your...well, you'd better have a lot of TP on hand!

If I stuck with just assorted greens (spinach equivalents) I'll need to eat thirty-five pounds of them per day. Not going to happen.

I get e-mails all the time from people who want to escape civilization and live free in the wild. Most of these people have little or no experience even camping and yet they plan on living "at one with Mother Nature". Foraging enough calories from plants alone is almost impossible in the woods. The volumes/masses required are just too great. One family alone will wipe out all the plant calories in an area in a few days, forcing them to keep moving in search of new harvests. Many people don't realize this. Hopefully this post will help clue them in.


Adventure! Excitement! Carbohydrates!


Brad said...

So, what you're saying is, brush up on your hunting skills as well as your foraging skills? Or, bring food and use Ma Nature to supplement not to survive? (Unless you are in a survival situation ala Les Stroud).

Amazing what it takes to keep the human body going and what that equates to in actual product.

Mike_H said...

Great post as usual. Definitely the reason our ancestors were called hunter/gatherers. Emphasis on the hunter. Definitely the source of most of our calories.

Wayne D. said...

This is why I never bought into the whole vegetarian thing. Most primitive cultures ate meat in some form. Be it fish, deer, rats... I have cut back a lot on my meat intake since I turned 30. I just can't seem to gorge myself on a pund of meat and then expect to get it back off.

Anonymous said...

Then maybe it'd be better to escape civilization to be a subsistence farmer rather than a hunter-gatherer only relying on wild food when the harvests are bad

nocalorie said...

Calories are a big problem for many people. I don't understand why, since you can get off this stress by exercising regularly.

buymultivitamins said...

I agree, but be careful to take multivitamins while being on a low calorie diet. It's healthier for you.

AllDietBooks said...

Calories are a problem dealt with in many diet books. Specialists's advice can be very efficient and helpful for those interested.