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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.
A number of foodstuffs have been strongly associated with famine, war, or times of hardship throughout history:
- The breadnut or Maya nut was cultivated by the ancient Mayans but is largely rejected as a poverty food in modern Central America.
- In Polynesia, plants from the genus Xanthosoma, plants known locally as ʻape, were considered famine food and used only when the taro crop failed.
- Several species of edible kelp, 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.
- Sego lily bulbs were eaten by the Mormon pioneers when their food crops failed.
- Tulip bulbs and beetroots were eaten in the German-occupied parts of the Netherlands during the "hunger winter" of 1944-45.
- In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond posits that disdain for seafood, including fish, ringed seal, and whale, as poverty food contributed to the collapse of the Greenland Norse.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 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.
- Government cheese
- Peasant foods
- Staple food
- Taboo food and drink
- Turnip Winter
- Jiuhuang Bencao, 1406 Chinese illustrated herbal for famine foods
- McBride, Doreen (8 February 2018). "The Little Book of Fermanagh". History Press – via Google Books.
- Gribben, Arthur (1 March 1999). "The Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora in America". Univ of Massachusetts Press – via Google Books.
- "Holdings: Nettles and charlock as famine food". sources.nli.ie.
- "Бурьян, крапива и лебеда. На одном из харьковских хлебозаводов выпекли "голодоморский" хлеб", ATN Kharkiv.
- Jim Clancy (2010-02-24). "TV chef dropped for cat recipe comments". CNN.
- Broto de Palma na culinária nordestina (Palma shoots in northeastern cuisine) GUEDES, Claudet Coelho. Federal University of Campina Grande. Access on January 15th, 2016.
- Eating on the Islands - As times have changed, so has the Maldives' unique cuisine and culture
- Yves Guinand and Dechassa Lemessa, "Wild-Food Plants in Southern Ethiopia: Reflections on the role of 'famine-foods' at a time of drought" UN-OCHA Report, March 2000 (accessed 15 January 2009)
- Ahmed, Badawi Ibrahim (1991). "Famine foods in eastern regions of the Sudan" (PDF). IAEA. MS thesis, Agriculture, Univ Khartoum. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- "What it's like to eat a tarantula spider". CNN Travel. 2017-02-01. Retrieved 2018-04-22.