In World War Two, starving Europeans ate cats in North Italy and tulip bulbs in the Netherlands, while in Hungary the grandfather of István Bartos dined on rotten horse. Years later, he taught his grandson to prepare himself for famine by acquiring a taste for almost anything†.
“My grandfather once told me to imagine that no food was available: no breakfast, no lunch, no dinner. What would you do? he asked. How would you cope? I was three years old. I went outside and started eating sour cherries and chickweed. The next day he asked me how I felt and I cried. I spent that whole summer with my grandfather. I hated him then, but now I think this was the best thing that could have happened to me. When I was eight I started to do it by myself. I ate unusual things every day, like wall and so on. It was instinctive. Why not eat a plastic bag, if I like it? The other kids mocked me at school, but during breaks I would entertain them by eating ants.
“At the beginning of the 2000s, the TV was showing tsunamis and earthquakes and cities going up in flames all around the world. Hundreds of thousands became homeless. One day, watching the news, I realized these things would happen here as well. I remembered my grandfather and something clicked. I smashed up the TV and ate all the wires. I’m afraid of natural catastrophes. Who isn’t? But it’s useless being afraid and just sitting in front of the TV. I’m preparing for them.
“I told all this to my father. He showed me the concrete pigsty where I’m living now. In winter, I put on nine jumpers, two coats, five sets of socks and three pairs of pants. I wear six jumpers in the summer, too. My father told me never to leave home without clothes and wine. You never know if you’ll get back.
“Every morning I go outside to eat nettles and chew grass. I dig out earthworms. If I’m really hungry, I eat snails and rats. I get vitamins from common mallow and mangold leaves. My diet is very low calorie; I have to pick throughout the day. For winter, I stockpile many bags of dried nettle, chickweed, hay and leaves, and I hunt for rats. When I have a sore throat I boil water from snow‡, add dried elderberry, gargle with it and the pain stops. To smoke, I collect leaves, mix them with snippets of used filters for nicotine and roll them in newspaper. For mentholated cigarettes, I add bits of urinal cake.
“I observe my defecation. I still cannot process screws and glass, but after 30 years I’m able to digest small plastic things. I swallow a piece of cellophane and it melts”.
István Bartos, 33, Székesfehérvár, Hungary
“I only had food poisoning once, when I ate a rotten cat. But I often eat roadkill. I spread salt on it and chew garlic as a disinfectant. I prefer to eat animals raw. What if we won’t have time to cook? This has been my diet for 30 years. I’ve tried everything except for human flesh. That’s the next step. Should I eat someone? No. Do I want to survive? That’s the question that has to be asked.”† The world’s most sustainable hamburger may be made from synthetic or “in vitro” meat. These off-white strips of real muscle require no feedlots as they sprout from starter cells in petri dishes.
‡ Eating snow can cause hypothermia, but it will keep you hydrated in emergency situations. Buried by a snowstorm in 2012 while in his car near Umea, Sweden, Peter Skyllberg, 44, claims to have survived for two months by eating handfuls of snow from his vehicle’s roof.
Nutrition – The essentials
Eating insects is perfectly acceptable in 80 percent of the world’s countries. “Mole crickets are full of protein,” says Bartos. “Wasps too, but you should break off the sting first.”
“I’m an alcoholic, so it’s good that I can ferment my own wine. It contains bread, carrot, nettle leaves and apple skin. And a snail for taste.”
Heat a carcass in water, collect the floating fat and filter it. You can use this white paste to make soap, more meals or candles. Bartos eat candles to fatten up for winter.
“To tackle iron deficiency, I swallow screws. The bodywork of a car can be eaten against iron deficiency, too. People have to reach a level where they consider a car nutritious.”
Raw nettles, says Bartos, “burn the tongue a bit, but they’re good for the circulation.” He also prepares a vitamin-rich soup by boiling nettles in rainwater over a fire made of straw, sticks and plastic bottles.