Food is very dear to our hearts and often crops up in many conversations. Holidays are judged by the standard of food, and weddings, parties, and social gatherings remembered by the quality of the food. Cookery is a very popular subject and dominates the TV. Programmes about Bush tucker trials, celebrity chefs, and food from around the world are every day occurrences. Napoleon once said, “an army marches on its stomach” which is very true, and the moral of soldiers can often reflect the standard of food they receive. So food plays an important part in our lives, and is never far from our thoughts. When I was in the military the food we got in camp was second to none . There was always multiple choices and as much as you could eat. However when on operations food was very basic and scarce. We were always on a long line of communication and dependant on aerial resupply, which was often disrupted by the weather or enemy activity. We had to carry everything and the only way we could keep the load manageable, was to exclude food. Consequently we were always hungry so I am particularly interested in food from any source of any type.
Water is far more important than food and availability dictates what we can eat. If there is an insufficient supply of water we don’t eat. Lack of water will suppress the appetite and food will be furthest from our thoughts. For the body to assimilate food it uses body fluids, so eating when dehydrated causes further problems. Proteins like meat and fish require a lot of water to be digested and metabolise in the body. Only carbohydrates like starch and sugar can be tolerated when water is limited. Sugars can actually release water when they are broken down in the body. That’s why emergency lifeboat rations are mostly made up of barley sugar. Food can be split into five basic groups :-
PROTEIN fish, meat eggs, dairy products.
CARBOHYDRATES sugar, syrup, honey, fruits, cereals, roots and tubers.
FATS meat, fish, nuts, dairy products.
VITAMINS and MINERALS.
The body needs food to produce energy, and maintain health. A well nourished body will fight disease and repair any damage. A healthy body can survive for a time on reserves stored in its tissues. The secret of good health is a balanced diet. Try to avoid eating anything in excess. Your daily intake should include 1 part protein, 2 parts fat, 3 parts carbohydrates. If water is available this diet can be used in any climate. The energy rating in food is measured in calories. 1g of protein = 4 calories, 1g carbohydrate = 4 calories. 1g fat = 9 calories. The average adult consumes approximately 3,500 calories per day. An office worker may take less and a manual worker more. In a well balanced diet the calories provided should be 10-14% protein, 25-35% fats, and the remainder in carbohydrates. In a survival situation we try to aim for a minimum 800 calories, eating whatever is available. If possible try to maintain the same ratio of the healthy diet. Eat little and often as this helps the body adjust to the taste and texture of the new source of foods found, which we have probably never eaten before. On a reduced diet don’t expect to be able to wrestle bears. You will be weak and tired. Avoid any strenuous tasks and sleeping is an excellent way of reserving calories. Be calorie conscious. Don’t expend more energy foraging than what you get in return for your efforts.
On my first tour in the jungle as a young soldier, I was starving. A tree called Nimbong was pointed out to me as being edible. It was about 30 foot high and 12 inches in diameter. I used what little energy I had to cut the tree down . Unfortunately it fell down a steep slope, so I used the last of my strength to go down and retrieve it. Not knowing what part I could eat I carried the whole tree back up the slope, and fell exhausted. My mate prepared the tree as I sat licking my lips in anticipation. He cut three foot off the top and started peeling back the bark. Nimbong is a palm tree and the growing tip of any palm is edible. He peeled and peeled then peeled some more. Finally he handed me what I can only describe as a stick of celery, a thin stick of celery. I probably got 200 calories from the effort but spend 3,000 to do so. Treat calories like currency, keep them in the bank.
PROTEINS – Proteins are the only food constituent containing nitrogen, which is essential for growth and repair of the body. They are made up of complex chemical structures called amino acids. Animal protein contains the ten essential acids which the body requires and cannot make, the other 15 are synthesised by our body from other foods we eat.
CARBOHYDRATES – Carbohydrates are the main source of energy, and also help the running of our nervous system. They are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, found in plants. They are easily converted into energy and do not require a large water intake. There are two main types, Sugars and Starches. Sugars give instant energy, so food with a high content of sugar, syrup, honey, or treacle, are ideal to take when requiring energy. Starches are found in cereals, roots and tubers. Starch granules are insoluble in cold water and needs heat to release them that is why we boil all roots and tubers.
FATS – Fat contains twice as many calories as carbohydrates. They require a lengthy digestive process which demands an adequate intake of water. Fats heat and insulate the body, and protects vital organs. Fats found in red meat are saturated fats which can be unhealthy. Unsaturated fats found in fish and plants is the better option.
VITAMINS – Vitamins are essential to health and protect us from illness. A well balanced diet supplies all the vitamins we need. Fat soluble vitamins A.D.E. and K are stored in our body fat and are slowly released. Water soluble vitamins C and B cannot be stored in the body and are required in regular amounts. Scurvy that early sailors got was due to Vitamin C deficiency. Night blindness is a sign of Vitamin A deficiency.
MINERALS – Minerals perform a range of important functions in the body. Sodium, calcium and potassium are the main ones. There are many trace elements found in tiny amounts in the body and their exact function is not known.
SURVIVAL FOOD – The nutritional ladder is PLANTS, FUNGI, INSECTS, FISH, GAME.
Plants give us an easy source of carbohydrates and vitamins. They don’t have to be tracked, trapped or gutted. Only recognition is required and if the edibility test is followed poisoning can be avoided. Plants are rich in Vitamin C but boiling destroys this. The best way to use plants is as a salad, fresh young specimens are best for this. Roots and tubers must be cooked and many plants are more palatable when cooked. Add to the stew when the meat is cooked and gently simmer till tender. Plants can also be used for medicine. Pound for pound fungi are slightly more nutritious than plants but some are deadly. No amount of boiling will destroy this. It must be positive recognition or leave well alone. Don’t experiment with fungi if you are not absolutely positive leave alone. Insects supply vital fats and protein. The common earth worm supplies all the essential amino acids that the body requires. They are plentiful and only need collecting. Fish are relatively easy to catch and provide protein and fats. If you are fortunate to be by water all forms of wild life will flourish. For long term survival, meat is desirable. It does take skill to trap game, and preparing requires knowledge. The only way to become proficient at this is practice.
The next feature will go into more detail of wild foods, and hints of cooking and preparing. So don’t eat too much over the holiday, stay fit and a very merry Xmas