I knew I should have learned how to cook! It didn’t make any difference that I knew how to start a fire or how to shelter myself against the winds and the rain or even how to keep myself hydrated. Staying warm and dry just doesn’t matter if you are shrinking away from starvation. Over the ten years that I was stranded alone on that island, I have learned a lot. Among the most important things was what not to eat, ever, such as beetle bugs, tree bark, or coconut. I have had to try many things in my attempt to nourish myself and few were successful.
The first thing I learned to never eat was beetles. Overall, I just needed to eat. I was hungry, plain and simple. At some point I remembered that bugs and worms had lots of protein and though they didn’t sound appetizing, I had a gnawing in my stomach that had to be stopped. So I set out to hunt some bugs. I couldn’t get a hold of the ants that I found because they were too small and too fast. Instead, I had to settle on the beetles, the only other bug I was able to find more than one of. I wasn’t going to waste time trying to figure out if I should kill them, try to cook them, or even have the time to get squeamish about eating them, so I just shoved the five that I had into my mouth and started chewing. It was bad enough that they crunched between my teeth and that the juices that came squirting out were bitter, but when I swallowed, their many little legs kicked and squirmed against my esophagus. That was beyond creepy! And, of course, they didn’t even come close to filling me up. I never ate them again and definitely do not recommend it.
Vegetation was my next choice. I love greens and vegetables but unfortunately do not know much about them. I had to be careful to not eat something poisonous so berries and mushrooms were out. There are too many varieties of these to take a risk. Seaweed was a safe bet but I could never get past its slimy texture, so it was hard to get down. I had read somewhere once that the bark of trees have medicinal properties and wondered if I could figure out how to prepare them if they might have some nutritional value as well. All I cared about really was how filling it was. It turned out to be a bad experience. I tried soaking it and pulverizing it but no matter what I did to it, it was impossible to chew and dry going down. The worst part was discovering that it doesn’t digest. Comes out the same way it went in and just as painful.
Out of everything that I ended up eating while on that island, the one I regret the most was the coconut. I thought I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when I found two huge coconuts just lying on the ground at my feet. Long after the sun went down, I finally got the nut out of the center. I waited until the next morning to pursue it further because I was weak and exhausted and needed sleep. When I awoke, I started beating on the inner nut relentlessly until it split open. I gulped down the tasty milk inside and with a sea shell dug out little chunks at a time devouring them faster than I could scrape them out. Within minutes the most horrible thing that could have happened did happen. I blew up like a blow fish. And itch? Oh my goodness, how I itched! My face was all swollen including my ears and my neck. Of course I did what anyone would do. I started scratching but that didn’t last long because my hands swelled to the point that my fingernails all but disappeared. Obviously I was having an allergic reaction that would last three full days and there was nothing I could do about it except stop eating the coconut.
Ten years on an uninhabited island was, to say the least, a very harrowing experience, but an educating one as well. Fortunately I had some survival skills under my belt already. One thing is certain; the best way to learn how to survive is to be in a position where surviving is imperative. When I got to the island I knew nothing more about cooking than how to boil water. However, hunger and the desire to stay alive motivated me to utilize the most important survival skill I had; trial and error. I have learned how to prepare about 20 different foods from nature, but just as importantly, if not more so, is what I have learned not to eat.