Monday, October 7, 2013

Living Off The Land: Delusions and Misconceptions About Hunting and Gathering

"Liver-eatin' McLeod" Mountain man of the virtual West. - Image from:

This letter is in response to your link to a post by Ross Gilmore: Living Off The Land: Delusions and Misconceptions About Hunting and Gathering.  It's a well-written article and I'd like to expand upon it.

I've been teaching Stone Age skills for 29 years and I've spent most of my adult life in the backcountry of Idaho and British Columbia.  I never purchased meat or fish from a store for about 20 years, though I consumed a lot.  I've lived Stone Age for short periods of time, living completely off the land using only the skills and tools of long ago... handmade longbow with obsidian-tipped arrows, stone knife, cordage snares and deadfall traps, etc.

I've now moved to the other wilderness, Los Angeles, where I'm sharing my skills and learning new lessons every day... but that's another story.

Meeting one's caloric needs directly from the land is an idea filled with Dances with Wolves romanticism.  Most people have no idea what it's really like.  I have been reduced to such a weakened state from lack of calories that walking 100 yards required stopping to rest, and that was after only a week of living off the land.  That experience occurred in the mountains of Oregon in the Hell's Canyon Wilderness in May, "springtime."  Spring in the mountains there meant that I was snowed on, hailed on, and rained on, and water froze solid every night.  I was likely burning through at least 7000 calories per day, and my main source of calories, bisquitroot (Lomatium spp.), provided 2-3 calories per gram.  Now, 2-3 calories per gram is very high for most wild food, but I still required about 15 pounds of it per day to break even!  I couldn't eat that much.

However, something that Ross Gilmore doesn't point out is that there is a transition period during which our bodies acclimate to new foods.  Much of that acclimation takes about a week, after which a person more efficiently processes wild foods and more efficiently utilizes the energy.  We adjust.  Part of the adjustment comes from our flexible metabolism: our metabolism shifts to match food intake.  When there is inadequate food, we have a desire to move slower and sleep more.  That's why "Naked and Afraid" people lay around so much.  However, a person getting close to adequate calories after the transition from conventional to natural food sources will feel more energized after that week-long adjustment.

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