One of the most basic aspect of survival is the proper nutrition of our body. This cannot be overlooked even in a SHTF scenario, since as we all must know by now a lack of self-discipline can lead to disastrous consequences in the wilderness.
When it comes to eating in the wild, there are two key factors to consider in terms of survival: one is providing the hygienic conditions necessary for the safe processing of edible food, and two is taking special measures to ensure your safety from animals and other people during the complete process of gathering, preparing and consuming the food.
How to Eat Properly in the Wild?
The very nature of the wild is based on competition for food and mates. Fortunately for us being intelligent primates this time we consider only the former. Since being in a survival scenario in any kind of natural environment will make our surrounding our worst enemy. Just think of the last picnic you had in the woods. Ants, bugs swarming everywhere, right?
Now, if the grid goes down and you might be forced to leave your sweet home, your full pantry and supplies, and even your emergency food kit runs out when you are in the middle of nowhere, there will be some lot smaller and a lot bigger things than ants for enemies.
First, you have to think of gathering your food. Foraging, fishing, hunting or looking for nests with eggs, but even going in town for hoarding the leftover supplies from the pillaged supermarket might do it. This article isn’t going to get into the details of getting your food, just for this one thought which is crucial nonetheless: Be careful and always watch your back. You have to always consider that there is someone else thinking the same thing, and that someone also wanted and would have happily taken that food, if you hadn’t been there already.
Storing Your Food
Now that you have luckily made off with something you can fill your stomach with, you have to think of proper storage of the aforementioned delicacies. Depending on what kind of food we are talking about, the number of necessary steps vary. Perishables, and especially fresh meat needs to be kept refrigerated at 40 F° (4.4 °C) or below or be prepared in some way according to WHO standards. As in most survival scenarios refrigeration isn’t available (winter is welcome), we would recommend some sort of curing method (smoke and salt) for keeping meat longer. Meanwhile, if you have managed to somehow refrigerate (say hello to solar power) or preserve meat, its high nutritional value will soon attract wildlife.
This is the part when you have to think of defending your food, as well as your life – since you are meat too! Predators shouldn’t be your main worry, but omnivorous animals (such as mice, dogs, boars, bears, and yes, ants too) could make you some trouble. If you know that you are in their natural habitat, expect them as if they were already there. Store your food far away from camp, and put it somewhere where animals cannot get to it. The usual method is hanging food high on a tree, but even this way you have to make sure you sealed it right. Otherwise birds, squirrels and even ants could reach it if they get its scent. And you don’t want boars lurking around either. Therefore, best to have at hand and use airtight containers for the purpose.
When you have fresh and nutritious food available, it’s tempting to go back to the everyday habits and just eat your lunch or snack at the same place where you sleep. That’s a horribly wrong habit when you are in the wild. Just as you have a separate place for storing your food, you should have a separate place for preparing and eating your food. This is even more important if we are talking about calorie rich food that naturally attracts wildlife.
As for hygiene, it’s more important than ever. You should wash your hands often, meaning that you should have lots of water or running water (even a stream) available at hand. A strong hand sanitizer might also do the job.
If you have raw meat, use separate dishes and tools for preparing it, and generally keep it away from ready-to-eat food, including dairy, fruit and vegetables.
Perishables cannot be kept out for more than two hours, and not even for one hour when it’s hot. You have to decide what you want to do with it: cook and refrigerate if you have the means, preserve it or just eat it right away.
Just to be safe, always cook raw meat to proper cooking temperature to ensure that you not only fill your stomach, but you also stay healthy. Poultry, stuffed meats and pasta needs the highest temperature, at least 165°F. This goes for reheating leftover food too.
Ground or marinated meats, as well as eggs that you intend to eat later should be cooked at 155°F for at least 17 seconds. Beef, pork or lamb, whole seafood, and eggs to be eaten immediately should be cooked at 145°F for at least 15 seconds. Meanwhile commercially processed food that are ready-to-eat, as well as fruits, vegetables and grains are considered safe after reaching 135°F.
With enough practice you might learn to know the perfect timing for these, but if you want to make sure, you should have a food thermometer packed in your emergency kit.
What to Do with our Trash in Nature?
When you have finally finished your meal, the main thing to do is to leave everything clean. Wash your dishes, but if you use any soap including even biodegradable camping soap, use it well away from rivers, lakes and springs, not to pollute them. You could dump the water on the ground or use it to extinguish camp fire. A more nature-friendly method is using baking soda for washing pots and utensils.
As for the leftovers, never leave any food remnants out in the open, since it will soon attract the previously detailed competitors. Thus, for safety, better to burn the leftovers in your camp fire if you don’t have the means to safely and properly store those in a cool, airtight container. Best not to have any food or snack be in the tent with you.
Trash should be packed in trash bags and taken to the nearest town. Until then, keep it far away from camp, sealed as much it is possible. You shouldn’t bury your trash, since most animals have far better smell than us humans, and they will have no better thing to do than digging out what you have just buried. Remember, that once omnivore animals discover remnants of food, even your trash, they will always keep looking for more, since it’s an easy source of nutrients for them.
Now that you know the corner stones of eating properly in the wild, you should make a minimum list of what you need to achieve these safety conditions in the wilderness. From pots and knives to hand sanitizers, put everything together, since you might never know when’s the day when SHTF.