The person who is well-prepared has food set aside for an emergency, but what happens if that food runs out? Or even worse, what if you haven’t stored any food when disaster hits? Food is such an important thing to have that access to it, the price of it and its distribution has even been historically known to serve as a catalyst for armed conflict. The good news is that even if you don’t have food when disaster hits, you don’t have to live on a farm to find something to eat. Even the largest cities can provide a free meal to those who are willing to look for one.
While it probably won’t be easy and the average person will not want to wander on a daily basis to find food, a city can provide the urban survival hunter/gatherer with protein, sides to go with it and even the means to make a hot beverage. With some careful planning, food can be harvested from the city to supplement a dwindling supply or make up for a lack of prior planning.
One of the hardest food sources to come by in an urban environment could prove to be a good protein source. I attribute this to the fact that most protein sources are alive and, as result of this, tend to move. This is before you even make any attempt to take it as food. Once the hunt begins, the running, ducking, and dodging make capturing that protein even more difficult.
When it comes to preparing any meat that you are able to harvest, you will need a heat source at a minimum. Barring extraordinarily bad weather, the option for cooking that will almost always be available is fire, which can come in the form of a grill or even a campfire. When cooking over a fire, not all methods are created equal. Doing a little research now can yield some tips and tricks for cooking protein over a fire. This can prove to mitigate a significant amount of stress later down the road if you do find yourself roasting small game over a fire.
In addition to being able to cook your harvested protein so that it is safe to consume, it is always nice to impart additional flavor into the meat. This can most easily be done with basic spices like salt, pepper, seasoning salt, garlic pepper, etc. Setting spices aside now is obviously the easiest way to season your scavenged protein, but these are also items that could be found. If you find yourself on the hunt for spices, potential sources where they might be scavenged include restaurants, gas stations, food trucks, school cafeterias and even abandoned homes.
When it comes to protein sources in the city, there are many options including squirrels, frogs, fish, pigeons and insects.
Squirrels: Most urban environments have no shortage of squirrels, or limb rats as they are sometimes called. If you are able to catch a squirrel, they are easily cooked over an open fire and are reported by many people to be quite tasty. One of the great things about squirrels is that they reproduce quickly and, if not overhunted, will provide an ongoing source of protein.
Frogs: A pond in your neighborhood park or the banks of the river that runs through downtown are probably the two best places to locate frogs. The edible part of the frog is the hind legs, and they are usually prepared by frying or grilling them. As a mild meat, they pair nicely with most other foods.
Fish: Any body of water has the potential to have fish in it, and many states and cities have dedicated ponds or lakes for fishing. A few pieces of tackle with some fishing line and some worms that you dig up can provide a means to catch fish. Most fish are fairly mild in flavor, making them a protein that most people can tolerate. One of the great things about fish is the fact that once they are cleaned, they can be cooked whole or filleted and cooked in a pan or on the grill.
Pigeons: I have heard more and more over the past few years about people raising pigeons as a meat source. They also happen to be roaming around in most parks, hanging out under bridges and pooping on statues. Where I live, the pigeons are so used to people that you can practically scoop one up without much effort. If you put out a little bait (bread crumbs, seed, etc.), the job is even easier.
Insects: Bees, cicada, cockroaches (gross!), crickets, earthworms, grasshoppers, June bugs, locusts, mealworms and scorpions are all on the short list of edible insects. While most of us do not process the idea of eating bugs very well, they can be a valuable source of much-needed protein if nothing else is available. The Western world may not enjoy eating insects, but they are a staple in many countries throughout the Eastern half of the world.
Most people enjoy some sort of side with their main dish. While you will not be able to find a macaroni-and-cheese bush in the local forest reserve, there are many things that can be located to round out your scavenged survival meal and complement the protein you captured.
Greens: Many varieties of greens grow in various climates and are treated as weeds. While some of these greens may taste better if prepared in a certain manner, i.e., cooked or soaked prior to consumption, most of them can be harvested raw and put together to make a salad. Some of the common greens of North America include: dandelion greens, watercress, bittercress, wild mustard, wild lettuce, lady’s thumb, violets, clover, chickweed, lamb’s quarters and purslane. This is almost enough to justify keeping a small bottle of salad dressing in my bug out bag!
Flowers: There are even edible flowers (don’t eat the whole plant, just the flowers) that you may stumble upon in the neighbors’ yard. Some of the edible flowers that are out there include carnation, gardenia, lilac, nasturtium (my favorite), and violets. While these can be eaten on their own, they are probably best paired with greens to make a salad.
Fruit: Several fruits can be found growing in parks and gardens in many cities. Some of the commonly seen varieties include blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. It is not unlikely that apples can be found. And depending on where you live, it is reasonable to think you may find citrus fruits and possibly even bananas. Because of the average person’s familiarity with fruit, these are typically readily identified. Just be careful to have a definite identification when harvesting berries, as there are some varieties that look like edible berries but are not.
Nuts: In addition to eating them by themselves, nuts can be added to salads as well as dried and ground to make a flour that can be used for frying or even as the base for a bread dough. Some of the most common tree nuts that can be found include the nuts from the chestnut, beech, walnut, hickory and hazelnut trees, as well as acorns from oak trees. Just be careful if you choose to gather acorns; they must be prepared in a particular manner, including removing any bad nuts, drying them and then completing an extensive leaching process. Without completing these preparation steps, your experience with acorns might not be a very good one.
Tree bark: The bark from some trees can be peeled and dried so that it can be ground into flour. This flour can then be used to make breads or tortillas or as a breading for frying proteins or flowers.
Everyone likes their food to taste as good as possible. After all, if bland, overcooked food were desirable, everyone would be committing crimes so that they could partake in the premium cuisine being offered by the local department of corrections. Being as this is not the case, having the means to enhance the flavor of your food can make a difficult situation slightly more comfortable. When talking about a survival situation, the comfort that is provided by decent food can be a big boost to morale.
One popular meal enhancer, especially at breakfast, that can be harvested readily from a common tree in urban areas is syrup, which comes from the sap of the maple tree. During the winter months, the tree sap from maple trees can be gathered and boiled down to make pure maple syrup.
The dried leaves from a sassafras tree can also be used much like cornstarch as a thickener for soups and stews.
Coffee: There are many potential resources in nature for making an improvised cup of coffee. While it will never be the same as the cup du jour at the local coffee shop, it is always nice to have something that seems familiar. There are two main coffee substitutes that can be found in nature: chicory and dandelion.
The roots from the chicory plant can be roasted as a substitute for coffee. The roasted roots can then be ground and brewed. In a similar manner, dandelion roots can also be harvested to be roasted and brewed, much like coffee.
One thing to keep in mind is that your improvised cup of coffee may not give you all of the results you are looking for. As an example, coffee made from dandelion roots will not contain any caffeine. You might want to keep some sugar and powdered creamer on hand in the event you do end up drinking nature’s coffee substitute.
Tea: There are more than a few things in nature that can be brewed for tea. The most common options use the needles from the spruce and common pine trees like the white pine. One thing to keep in mind when making pine needle tea is that the younger the needles are the better your tea will taste. In addition to being tasty, pine needle tea also can be helpful in combating a cold.
In addition to pine needle tea, birch twigs can be steeped in hot water to make a tea. There are two components of the sassafras tree that can be used to make two very different flavors of tea. The dried roots resemble root beer in flavor, while the twigs have a citrus flavor.
One of the common misperceptions about eating foods that are gathered is that they will not taste as good as the foods that you are used to. In some cases this is true. And the way that some wild edibles are prepared can make a big difference in how they taste. But for the most part, many wild-grown foods can be very closely compared to other foods that we eat every day.
While there is an abundance of food that can be harvested in urban areas, it is important to know where to find these foods and perhaps just as important to know what areas to avoid harvesting food from. Some of these areas that should be avoided inside and out of urban areas include:
- Industrial sites and their surrounding areas
- Ditches, waterways, swamps and areas where water has collected
- Drainage areas, parking lots and downhill from these locations
- Dumps or areas with signs of dumping
The single greatest thing that should be done if you ever plan on harvesting your food from the wild is collecting the knowledge of how to properly identify what is edible and what is not. An easy way to do that is to either buy one of the many commercially available guides or to make your own with information that can be found in your local library or on the Internet. Don’t forget to get information about lookalike wild foods in your area that are actually harmful if consumed. If you are ever in doubt, don’t eat the item in question.
Whether or not you choose to take the steps necessary to secure your food supply now, you can take some solace in the fact that a meal is hiding in your local park. All you have to do is get out there and find it.