This Is What People Eat While Living In Some Of Earth’s Harshest Environments

harsh environment diets

The hit HBO series Chernobyl premiered to rave reviews on May 6, 2019. It provides a stark reminder of the infamous nuclear disaster that unfolded in Ukraine back in 1986. The show deals primarily with the immediate aftermath of the crisis. But it’s worth noting that the deadly radiation unleashed after a series of explosions at the Chernobyl power plant continues to impact the region’s food and drink supply more than 33 years later. Even lingering contamination of the berries that grow in nearby forests hasn’t stopped residents from making berry-picking a cornerstone of the local economy. It’s one of the many difficult choices people made in the decades since the accident — all in the name of survival.

Life post-Chernobyl certainly isn’t easy.

Chernobyl is hardly the only place on Earth affected by disaster, extreme weather, civil unrest, and other harsh conditions, though. People everywhere struggle with harsh environment diets. For instance, indigenous cultures that call the Australian Outback home made a variety of insects staples of their diets. Their mostly barren landscapes and soaring temperatures prevent many types of edible vegetation from flourishing. Although most Americans might turn up their noses at the thought of ingesting “witchetty grub” (we’ll cover THAT later!), it’s just a way of life for the roughly 60,000 villagers that reside there.

Here are more examples of what people eat while living in some of Earth’s harshest environments, from the frigid temperatures of Antarctica to the totalitarian regime of North Korea.

Whale Meat

Where: Greenland

Don’t let the name Greenland fool you. According to Live Science, most of the country is “covered in an ice sheet up to 1.8 miles thick.” Despite global limits on commercial whaling, whale meat remains a common meat source in the tundra. People often eat it raw, smoked, or cured. The meat can also be dried as a means of preservation, making the resulting snack similar to beef jerky. If you ever watched Free Willy, though, chances are you won’t want to snap into Greenland’s version of a Slim Jim.


Where: Korea

During the 2018 Winter Olympics, skier Gus Kenworthy famously rescued a puppy from a South Korean dog meat farm. Although that particular farm was in the process of closing, people eat millions of dogs every year in both North Korea and South Korea, according to USA Today. It’s difficult to imagine using our furry friends for fuel, but the sale of dog meat makes for a billion-dollar trade in South Korea. Eating it is a longstanding custom on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone.

Narwhal Blubber

Where: Greenland

Whale blubber is even more popular in Greenland than whale meat, according to Fodor’s. As you probably guessed, the fatty skin of whales makes blubber. And many Greenland natives consider blubber from Narwhal whales, in particular, a delicacy. Purportedly, it has a “crunchy consistency, despite it being fat with a tough exterior skin and white layer of cartilage.” The blubber is usually cut into bite-size pieces and seasoned with salt or served with soy sauce for dipping. Bon appétit?

Bear Paws

Where: Siberia

Hunting is one of Russia’s oldest pastimes. So, it’s unsurprising that people living in the Siberian region routinely eat wild meat. That area experiences extreme temperatures in both summer and winter. Paws taken from Russian brown bears are popular on the Chinese black market. And they sell for both medicinal and cooking purposes. In Siberia, though, bear paws are marinated, fried, and stewed before being served as an “appetizer to vodka,” according to Russia Beyond. I’ll take the Grey Goose, but hold the bear paws, please.

Witchetty Grub

Where: Australian Outback

Dangerous wildlife and scorching temps mean just 10 percent of Australia’s population calls the sprawling Outback home. Aboriginal Australians who live there survive on bushtucker. It includes really any food native to the country. Ants, spiders, locusts, and other insects are all staples of the local diet. Perhaps most notable among bushtucker is the witchetty grub. The worm-like creature (a witchetty grub is actually ghost moth larvae) reportedly has a nutty taste. Locals eat it raw or roasted over a fire.


Where: Sahara Desert

Despite what you see in the movies, cactus doesn’t provide a great source of water in the desert. In fact, drinking the fluid in most types of cacti actually accelerates dehydration. It can seriously mess with your digestive system. That said, there are several species of edible plant life in the Sahara, the world’s largest and hottest desert. Options include fig trees, doum palm trees, date palm trees, and even olive trees. In addition to noshing on native vegetation, locals supplement their diets with small mammals like rabbits and foxes.


Where: Central African Republic

The constant threat of severe flooding and civil unrest don’t make for easy living in Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic. Because meats are scarce, edible insects such as cicadas, crickets, termites, and grasshoppers provide important sources of protein for locals. In fact, the idea of eating insects as an environmentally friendly solution to world hunger is growing in popularity. Who knows — maybe you’ll see grasshoppers on the menu at your local pub sooner than you think!


Where: Zimbabwe

Some people in Zimbabwe grapple with food shortages and pervasive unemployment. Although many locals used to frown upon the consumption of crocodile meat there, retailers widely distribute the meat throughout the country. It also appears on many restaurant menus as an option for “culinary adventurous families,” according to Newsday. Interested in giving this alternative meat source a try? A simple crocodile stir-fry might be a good place to start. (If it tastes anything like fried alligator, I could probably get on board.)


Where: Sudan

The Republic of Sudan occasionally grapples with criminal activities and civil unrest. Consequently, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory warning to Americans traveling there. However, Sudan is also home to diverse regional cuisines steeped in local culture and tradition. One such dish, elmaraara, consists primarily of sheep lungs, liver, and stomach. Chefs combine the meat with salt, peanut butter, and onions. The kicker? Most people enjoy this popular Sudanese appetizer raw.


Where: Antarctica

According to the CIA World Factbook, Antarctica is the coldest, driest, highest, and windiest continent on Earth. One of the most common meals enjoyed by the 1,000 or so scientists who reside there year-round is known as hoosh. It’s a combination of pemmican, sledging biscuits, and melted ice mixed together in a broth. The main ingredient, pemmican, is a mushy blend of ground and dried meat with added fat for energy. Presumably, your taste buds take a backseat to survival when you’re facing temperatures that regularly plummet well below zero.

Sour Milk

Where: Tibet

Short summers, arctic winters, and high altitudes make the Changtang region of the Tibetan Plateau the embodiment of a harsh environment. Yet the area is still home to thousands of nomads called the Changpa. They survive by herding goats and other livestock between camps, according to Live Science. These nomads also subsist on foods like old cheese, dried raw meat, butter, yogurt, and sour milk. Yes, you read that right — sour milk. Expiration dates have been proven to be an inaccurate representation of when food spoils, right?


Where: Zimbabwe

If The Lion King is one of your favorite childhood movies, you might want to keep scrolling. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!) Anyway, in addition to crocodile meat, Zimbabweans regularly consume the meat of warthogs. They’re wild members of the pig family. Although warthog ribs and filets reportedly taste delicious, eating something that calls to mind a beloved cartoon character is pretty much the exact opposite of Pumbaa’s Hakuna Matata philosophy.


Where: Democratic Republic of Congo

High levels of crime and political violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo contribute to the nation’s longstanding humanitarian crisis. And despite an abundance of natural resources, the DRC is actually one of the world’s poorest countries, according to the BBC. However, the African nation is also the world’s largest consumer of cassava. It’s a starchy root vegetable that thrives in harsh conditions like drought and heavy rains. The cassava root can be eaten on its own, but people commonly ground the plant into flour for use in breads, crackers, cakes, and other baked goods.

Groundnut Stew

Where: Sierra Leone

Seventeen years after the end of a bloody civil war that killed an estimated 50,000 people and displaced millions, the West African nation of Sierra Leone is still considered “one of the toughest countries to survive in,” according to The Water Project. Despite the constant threat of violent crime, Sierra Leone maintains a population of nearly eight million. Many of those people would probably consider groundnut stew to be a staple of their diets. In the U.S., locals enjoy the thick soup made from peanuts, meat, tomatoes, and onions during Kwanzaa.


Where: Antarctica (and well, everywhere)

There’s some good news about those freezing researchers subjected to endless bowls of mushy, fatty meat in Antarctica. Turns out they actually indulge in a dessert universally beloved around the world: chocolate. That’s right, researchers and explorers working in Antarctica are known to consume a LOT of chocolate bars. Thanks to its high-calorie counts, chocolate is considered a good source of energy for people dealing with polar conditions on the continent.

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