Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Starvation Foods

March 9, 2015

I ate the evidence, but here are the ingredients!
Starvation Foods

Late winter and early spring are an iffy time in the northwest. We had record-breaking high temperatures for February, while much of the east coast shivered beneath a blanket of snow.

Historically, early spring has been an unpredictable time. Rather than in the dead of winter, this is when indigenous people were most likely to suffer starvation. Two Canadian scholars, Nancy J. Turner and Alison Davis, published a paper in 1993 called "When Everything was Scarce: The Role of Plants as Famine Foods in Northwestern North America," which reexamined earlier interviews of indigenous peoples about their traditional use of foods in times of famine. People could stretch their winter supplies only so far. If any major foods were late, inaccessible, or absent altogether, entire villages could starve. This could be caused by weather conditions, or in one case, when landslides blocked fish runs to the upper Frazier River.

Besides salmon, locals relished smaller fish with a high fat content that provided food and fuel, such as dogfish and candlefish. The landscape and seascape takes on an entirely different meaning when you are scanning it for anything edible.

As a result, people cultivated or sought out secondary foods that were eaten only during such an emergency. Black tree lichen was one of these, a lumpy black growth that can be pounded and cooked and turned into something not only edible, but packed with the types of nutrition needed to provide enough energy for hunting and gathering more food. I think I found some, but I would have to get it out of the tree to taste it.

This week, we prepared white bean soup with potatoes and carrots. To that we added a bag full of kale we froze last fall. It is tasty and nutritious, and serves as good fuel for the starvation months. Kept cool and dry, all the ingredients can overwinter.

Here is a recipe:

White bean soup - four servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced Ozette potatoes
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup dried small white beans
5 cups water
seasonings to taste

Heat oil in the bottom of a large, heavy saucepan. Dice potatoes and carrots and brown in the oil. Add seasonings, white beans, and 5 cups water. Stir and cover. Bring to a boil, then turn it down and simmer until beans are cooked, about 2 hours. About ten minutes before beans are done, rinse and add the frozen kale. It will resemble cooked spinach. Stir and heat through. Serve with bread or crackers.
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Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
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