The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild - Dave Canterbury (2016)

Part III. Living Off the Land

Chapter 17. Preparing Unconventional Foods

“He was a bold man who first ate an oyster.”

—Jonathan Swift

If you find yourself in an unexpected situation where your pack is empty and you’re still out in the wilderness, you don’t have to rely only on the nuts and acorns you can glean from your surroundings. You can also forage for unconventional foods—things we don’t normally think of as food.

But even in a non-emergency situation, you may want to learn to love grubs. Why eat bugs if we don’t have to? Probably the number one reason to get used to eating bugs is that they are very healthy to eat. Most bugs, depending on species, are full of protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and essential minerals. Grasshoppers actually contain more protein pound for pound than ground beef. Grasshoppers also pick up flavor easily during cooking so if you don’t like the flavor of your local species it is easy to change.

Bugs in general are one of the most prolific food sources on earth. This alone makes them worth understanding as a food source and trying something new is always interesting at the least. Dried bugs can easily be ground and mixed to extend existing resources like flour and other grains, and the risk of infectious disease is minimal at best compared to actual meat from animals. Most of us already consume bugs and their larva or eggs without realizing it in our foods anyway. This is just the next step and it has been a traditional dietary source in many countries since ancient times.

Insects You Can Eat

Remember that most of the things you look for as bait for fishing are actually edible as well in an emergency. While you can eat most insects raw, they usually taste better cooked. Cooking helps kill any bacteria and makes the insects more appealing to eat.

To prepare, remove heads, wings, legs, and antennae to make the insects go down easier (this also helps eliminate potential sources of contamination).

·        All worms like night crawlers and red worms are easy protein sources and very rich in proteins at that. To process a worm just start at one end and squeeze all the brown stuff out and you can consume it raw. Or you can soak them for several hours to get the dirt out. You can also use in stews and soups if you desire.

·        Grasshoppers should be skewered and cooked well as they can carry tapeworms but are edible just the same. Pull the head off first (the insides should come out, too). Crickets and locusts can also be eaten roasted, fried, or boiled.

·        Ants are small and take lots to make a meal but throwing them in a pot and melting some chocolate on them will make them go easier. You can also roast them and season them with salt. Carpenter ants, leaf-cutter ants, and honeypot ants are all fair game.

·        Bees and wasps can be roasted and their larvae fried in butter. Remove stingers first.

·        If you can find a termite mound run a stick into the mound and wait for it to fill with termites, then consume them raw. It may not be pleasant but it is food. (You can use this same technique to catch ants—find an anthill and run a stick into it.)

·        Grubs are also fairly high in protein and can be roasted in hot embers and eaten if needed. When consuming large grubs raw it is a good idea to remove the head with a sharp knife to avoid the mandibles.

·        Snails and slugs can carry parasites, so it’s best to cook them before eating.

·        Scorpions are not bad. Cut the poison sack off the end of the tail connected to the stinger and cook on coals or eat raw if needed.

Insects You Shouldn’t Eat

Some insects are poisonous or may be likely to be contaminated in some way. Avoid eating these insects:

·        Caterpillars should be left alone as some are poisonous.

·        I steer clear of most arachnids (eight-legged critters). This is my own preference, of course, but if I cannot positively identify the source of food I do not eat it, so my recommendation is stay with common insects we all know from childhood. As with caterpillars, some arachnids are poisonous, so be careful if you choose to consume these.

·        Centipedes and millipedes are generally off the menu for me as well because of identification concerns—millipedes are poisonous and centipedes aren’t, but it can be hard to tell them apart.

·        Brightly colored insects (yellow, orange, green) should be avoided as they are generally poisonous. Stick with black and brown.

·        Don’t eat insects with strong odors. They may be poisonous or diseased.

·        Don’t eat disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes and ticks.

Tips and Tricks

·        Catching insects can be a challenge for people used to shooing them away. One simple method is to dig a hole in the dirt near where you’ve seen insects such as crickets, and place a jar or container inside. In the container, place a piece of leftover food. In a few hours, you should have collected some bugs. Put the lid on the container and you have the makings for lunch.

·        Grubs and other bugs like to live on the underside of logs; turn over enough and you’ll have a meal.

·        Flying insects are attracted to light. You can catch them with a net.

·        You can grind insects into a paste and season it, then eat like a dip.

·        If you want to test out bug eating before your next camping trip, you can order mealworms and other insects online or purchase them at a local pet store (live insects are often used to feed reptiles).