We all need food to survive, and whatever cause (be it the dead rising, environmental crisis or nuclear Armageddon), getting enough to eat will be a major hurdle to keeping yourself alive if civilisation collapses. Yet this is an issue which is glossed over in most post-apocalyptic books and films. In them, getting food is portrayed as a simple matter of raiding a warehouse for canned goods or shooting the occasional deer (or in the case of The Road having a basement full of captives!).
This, however, is woefully unrealistic. Few of us have the skills to successfully track a deer and unless you are already well-practiced in the art, shooting one isn’t as easy as it might appear to the uninitiated (you really have to get it through the heart or the lungs with the first shot or it’ll be off – as will every other animal in a two-mile radius!). What does that matter, you’re thinking, there’s still the supermarkets and store rooms, except that’s what everyone will think and warehouses will become battle grounds that are best avoided if you don’t want to end up dead. So what else can you do?The thing is, there’s plenty of food out there; it’s just that it’s stuff you’re not used to eating. Yet, in a post-apocalyptic world, you can’t afford to be picky and you’ll have to adapt your expectations of what is and isn’t food. This is where entomophagy comes in. ‘What the **** is entomophagy?’ I hear you cry. Well, it’s the eating of insects as food. Insects are high in protein, full of the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy and, since 70% of all animals on the planet as insects, you can find them pretty much everywhere. I know what you’re thinking: insects, urgh – I’m not eating them! I can understand this disgust, but if you think about it, insects aren’t that different from the shrimps and lobsters you happily munch on without a second thought.
There’s something else which might help change your mind (or put you off eating altogether!). Even though you might not realise it, the chances are insects already make up a portion of your diet; a small portion, but a portion none-the-less. Did you know, for example, that the regulations from the US Food and Drug Administration mean that wheat flour can contain up to 150 insect fragments per 100g and still be considered safe to eat? Similarly, canned citrus fruit juice can contain up to 5 fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 maggot per 250 ml before being considered contaminated. This means you’re probably already eating insects (or more likely parts of them) on a daily basis without even realising it!
So, how can you shift insects from a small, and unintentional, part of your diet to a major component? Well, first you need a way to catch them. Luckily, you can do this very simple equipment. One of the easiest ways is called beating. This is where you put a large sheet under a tree or bush and then shake it or beat it with sticks. Get the right tree and within minutes, you’ll have enough insects to make a tasty meal for the whole family. If there’s no bushes or trees nearby, you can take the same sheet, form it into a kind of net and drag it through areas of tall grass, scooping up all the insects as you go. This is a particularly effective way of catching crickets and grasshoppers which, with their large fleshy abdomens are especially ‘meaty’.
If you don’t want to go to all that effort, you can also use pitfall traps to collect beetles that scurry over the ground as you simply sit back and wait. At night, you can set up a light trap (simply a light shone onto a sheet) which will attract all sorts of insects that will mistake it for the moon. Of course this assumes it’s safe to have a light burning at night – after all you only want to attract insects and not things like zombies, nuclear-powered mutants or whatever else might be wandering around your own particular post-apocalyptic world! If you can’t get outside, there’s no need to worry: the chances are there will be a smorgasbord of cockroaches scurrying around in the darker recesses of whatever building you’re holed up in. Just put some food scraps out, turn off the light and then scoop them up as soon as they appear.
If you’re dedicated and organised enough, you can even consider farming insects. In most cases, this will involve eating the larvae rather than the adults. For example, you can eat the nice plump maggots of various fly species, or grow your own beetle larvae. In particular, mealworms (the larvae of mealworm beetles – pictured above) are easy to keep as a self-sustaining culture as well as being very versatile when it comes to consuming them.
This brings us to the next issue. What do you do with the insects once you’ve caught them? At the most basic level you can simply toss them into a pan over an open fire and cook them until they’re crispy. However, if you so wish, you can get a lot more adventurous. How about sautéed crickets, or mealworm french fries? These are two of the recipes foun on the Insects Are Food website. You can even grind up mealworms and use them as a flour to make bread.
You might be surprised (or then again, given the wonders of the internet, you might not), but there’s plenty of sites that actively promote entomophagy as an environmentally-sustainable alternative to eating meat and fish, and they are full of advice about farming and cooking them. There’s even recipe books out there. The one I’d recommend (and indeed that I have a copy of myself) has the charming title of Eat-a-bug Cookbook: 33 ways to cook grasshoppers, ants, water bugs, spiders, centipedes, and their kin. This means there’s plenty of information out there where you can learn all you’d need to know to live off insects once the world as we know it comes to an end.
So what does all this mean? Well, if you preparing yourself to survive whatever type of apocalyptic event that you think might be coming to wreak havoc on the world around you, don’t just think about stocking up on the canned foods and the freeze-dried ready meals. As part of your preparations, learn how to catch insects and how to farm them too. You can also start practicing your entomological culinary skills. Next time there’s a sunny day, break out the barbecue, invite your friends and family round, but rather than the traditional burgers and hot dogs, treat them to something with a few more legs!
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.