ⓘ Blog | Famine food - food and drink. A famine food or poverty food is any inexpensive or readily available food used to nourish people in times of hunger and starva ..

Famine food

Famine food

A famine food or poverty food is any inexpensive or readily available food used to nourish people in times of hunger and starvation, whether caused by extreme poverty such as during economic depression; by natural disasters, such as drought; or by war or genocide.

Foods associated with famine need not be nutritionally deficient, or unsavoury. People who eat famine food in large quantity over a long period of time may become averse to it over time. In times of relative affluence, these foods may become the targets of social stigma and rejection.

The characterization of a foodstuff as "famine" or "poverty" food is primarily social. For example lobster and other crustaceans may be considered poverty food in some societies and luxury food in others depending on periods.


1. Examples

A number of foodstuffs have been strongly associated with famine, war, or times of hardship throughout history:

  • Tulip bulbs and beetroots were eaten in the German-occupied parts of the Netherlands during the "hunger winter" of 1944-45.
  • Several species of edible algae, including dulse, channelled wrack and Irish moss Chondrus crispus, were eaten by coastal peasants during the Great Famine in Ireland of 1846–48. Further inland, famine foods included stinging nettle, wild mustard, sorrel and watercress.
  • During the Cambodian humanitarian crisis, people ate tarantulas, scorpions, silkworms, and grasshoppers. Fried tarantulas later became a delicacy popular with tourists in the Cambodian town of Skuon.
  • The caper, the flower bud and berry of Capparis spinosa species, has been a famine food in southern Ethiopia and Sudan as well as in the 1948 siege of west Jerusalem.
  • During the Japanese occupation of Malaya, due to a severe shortage of rice, the locals resorted to surviving on hardy tuberous roots such as cassava, sweet potato, and yam.
  • In the semi-arid areas of Brazilian Northeast, the shoots and leaves of cactus Opuntia cochenillifera are normally used to feed the livestock cattle and goats. But during long droughts, people may use them as a last resort.
  • Likewise, during the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War, the menu in Parisian cafes was not limited to cats but also dogs, rats, horses, donkeys, camels, and even elephants.
  • Cat meat was eaten in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, and Liguria in times of famine, such as during World War II.
  • During the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during the Second World War, Filipino and American servicemen resorted to consuming dog meat, monkey meat, and the meat of monitor lizards referred to as "iguana lizards" in the source, pythons, mules, horses and carabaos as their supply of food dwindled.
  • Sego lily bulbs were eaten by the Mormon pioneers when their food crops failed.
  • During a number of famines in Russia and the Soviet Union, nettle, orache, and other types of wild plants were used to make breads or soups.
  • Morinda citrifolia is sometimes called a "starvation fruit", implying it was used by indigenous peoples as emergency food during times of famine.
  • In Polynesia, plants from the genus Xanthosoma, plants known locally as ape, were considered famine food and used only when the taro crop failed.
  • Historically in the Maldives the leaves of seaside trees such as the octopus bush and the beach cabbage were often used as famine food.
  • The breadnut or Maya nut was cultivated by the ancient Mayans but is largely rejected as a poverty food in modern Central America.

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