Extreme weather events, financial collapse, political unrest: With today's overabundance of apocalyptic worry, now is a good time to start thinking about what you’ll do if and when the bottom falls out. In a survival situation, shelter, fire and clean drinking water should be your top priorities, said Tom Brown, founder of Tom Brown Jr.'s Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School. And, even though people can survive for up to three weeks without food, Brown said, extreme hunger can make you crazy. So it's worth stocking up on canned foods and other non-perishables. Read on to find out what else you can -- and really shouldn't -- eat when the cans run out.
DO: Pet food People end up eating pet food often enough -- and sales tend to go up during recessions -- that FDA standards require food made for animals to be suitable for humans to eat too, said Cody Lundin, founder and director of the Aboriginal Living Skills School in Prescott, Ariz. In an episode of the Discovery Channel show "Dual Survival", Lundin eats dog food cooked over a campfire -- and while he expresses hope that they'll catch raccoon for breakfast, he lived to tell the tale.
DO: Rodents It's easy to catch rats and other rodents, said Brown, author of "Tom Brown's Guide to City and Suburban Survival." Simply bury a five-gallon bucket in the ground up to its edges. Cover the mouth of the container with sticks and wood scraps, and wait for a startled mouse or chipmunk to scramble under the jumbled objects. The animal will fall right into your trap. Next, burn the hair off your prey, skin them, gut them and throw them into a stew pot with water and any grains, vegetables or flour you might have on hand. "Don't even bother filleting them or getting rid of the bones," Brown said. "Bone marrow is high in nutrition and protein."
DON'T: Leather During their infamous struggle against starvation, the Donner Party ate a wide variety of unappetizing objects, including leather, which is made from animal hides. Long ago, people used the tannins in oak tree bark to turn animal skins into leather, making it a safe food item. But modern leather products are tanned with chemicals that are surely poisonous, said Lundin, author of "When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes." Your belts may look as good as fruit roll-ups when you're really hungry. But it's best to leave them in the closet.
DO: Bugs Grasshoppers, cockroaches, ants, tarantulas: Virtually all insects are edible. Just make sure to cook them well enough to kill the wide variety of diseases they can carry, Brown said. You can even eat bees and scorpions as long as you remove their stingers first. One easy way to catch insects is to fill a sink with a little water and some food crumbs. Hungry bugs will go for the bait and either drown or get stuck in the tub. Ounce for ounce, Brown added, insects have up to four times more usable protein than other animals. Instead of a pound of beef, a quarter-pound grasshopper burger will do the same job.
DO: Weeds "Food plants grow everywhere," said John Kallas, director of Wild Food Adventures, an educational company, and author of "Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate." "All you need to do is go out in your backyard." You also need to build up some detailed knowledge about botany before all hell breaks loose because eating the wrong plants or the wrong parts of plants can kill you. Common vitamin-rich weeds include wild spinach, cattails, field mustard, garlic mustard, nipplewort and dandelions. No matter how hungry you are, Kallas warned, only eat a little amount of any one kind of vegetation at a time. "Dandelions have some vital chemicals that are great for you in small amounts, but too much will give diarrhea," he said. "That's what you don't want in a survival situation."
DON'T: Cardboard and Paper Cardboard boxes may seem appealing because they contain cellulose from wood pulp, which is used as a thickener, stabilizer and source of fiber in a variety of food products. And along with paper, cardboard can counter hunger pains by taking up space. But people cannot adequately digest the cellulose in cardboard and paper, Brown said. Also, many of these products are treated with chemicals that can be toxic.
DO: Acorns Like any nut, acorns can be delicious and filling, but you can't just pop them in your mouth like cashews. To make acorns edible, Brown advised, first take them out of their husks. Next, drop them in a pot of just-boiled water and let them steep for a couple hours. Drain and repeat this process two to four times until all of the bitter tannic acid is gone. At last, you can eat the acorns plain. You can roast them. Or you can grind them into flour that will accentuate your rodent stew. Play the "Dual Survival" challenge, featuring survival experts Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury.
People have long referred to breast milk as liquid gold, so perhaps the idea was bound to come up: Why reserve it for babies? Some body-builders and athletes are paying upwards of $2.50 an ounce, proclaiming human milk the best, all-natural sports drink.
“It gives me incredible energy I don’t get from other food and drinks,” one man told New York Magazine. “I want natural stuff that’s God-given, and if it’s okay with moms looking to get rid of it, I’ll take it.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, there’s no evidence to back up such claims.
“There’s no peer-reviewed research investigating human milk as a muscle-building supplement or as any kind of post-workout recovery drink,” said E.A. Quinn, who researches human milk as an assistant professor in anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. “Human milk has tons of beneficial stuff, but I don’t think it’s targeting what (athletes) hope it would target. Professionally, I can’t think of any reason why it would work.”
Recovery drinks generally contain about 10-20 grams of protein per 8 ounces. Human milk contains fewer than 4. The protein in breast milk is particularly easy to digest -- a benefit for babies, but not necessarily for adults.
Some athletes say it gives them an energy boost;. Breast milk does contain a large amount of sugar in the form of lactose. But it also contains cannabinoids, which are associated with hunger and sleepiness in babies.
Others say they sip it for its immune properties. But while the probiotics and immunoglobulins in breast milk can help protect infants who haven’t fully developed their immune systems, it’s unclear how they would interact with the microflora colonies in adults.
“It’s possible they would be overwhelmed, because an adult has larger established colony of billions and billions of bacteria,” Quinn said.
Still, most experts agree it can’t hurt adults to drink it.
“There are many things in breast milk which are potentially useful even for adults,” said Dr. Jack Newman, co-creator of Breastfeeding Inc. In addition to vitamins and immune properties, "the milk has other very useful properties like the delivery of long chained polyunsaturated fatty acids, which many people are buying in pharmacies and health food stores.
"Basically, if the milk is properly screened or comes from a reliable source, it can’t hurt to drink it. Why would it be considered ‘normal’ to drink cow’s milk but not human milk?”
While studies haven’t focused on athletic performance, some research shows that a component of breast milk called HAMLET can kill cancer cells.
Even if breast milk were discovered to be the next Muscle Milk, there’s the issue of cost and demand.
“For jocks, my instinct would be to say it seems unlikely to have much benefit unless you could drink very large quantities of it, as the normal 3-ounce dose wouldn’t mean much to an adult,” said Florence Williams, author of "Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History." “Any more of that would be very expensive and probably overkill, since the major benefits of breast milk are nutrition and immune-boosting, neither of which a very fit, post-workout guy likely needs.”
Some, however, argue that since supply is so limited -- there’s never enough for babies who need it, Quinn said -- it should be reserved for infants only.
“I would be concerned if it became a widespread fad,” Quinn said. “The benefits are enormous for babies, particularly those at high risk, so we should be prioritizing it for infants.”