Les Stroud has shot 25 harrowing episodes of Survivorman, the latest of which have seen him using his extensive survival expertise to make it through 10 days in the desolate wilderness, up from seven days in the previous three seasons. He manages without a film crew, and with only minimal equipment, but one of the most captivating elements of his show is watching him forage his meals from distinctly unpromising offerings found in the bush. (There are various 10-minute fan mashups on YouTube of Stroud eating everything from grasshoppers to willow buds.) We caught up with the survivalist to talk about his relationship with food, foraging, and what we could learn from the primitive diet.
You’re known for your emergency survival techniques, but you also spent a year in the bush living a Paleolithic lifestyle. How does that diet diverge from what you eat on Survivorman?
Primitive living is very different from survival, but there are some similarities. A lot of early societies did not go out of their way to make crazy, spicy meals. One of the discoveries of civilization was playing with food—combining flavors and making eating enjoyable.
The first thing you learn is that you don’t eat three meals a day. Often you eat one meal a day. Traditional people ate when they got food. Feast or famine.
Both in the year I spent in the bush and during Survivorman, I found that that kind of subsistence diet is very bland. It has nothing to do with blending flavors and spices—that came later with civilization, so it’s a bland existence. So when you do get something that naturally has awesome flavor—like maple syrup, which is a traditional food source—it’s like, Oh my GOD! Magic.
Your year living Paleo—it can’t be the trendy Paleo diet that we think of. So what did you eat?
It was whatever the North American bush offered us traditionally—circa 500 years ago—and that was surprisingly varied: wild rice, peas, maple syrup, flour made from wild plants, and then of course you’ve got fish, wild game, berries....
And you have to process them in a way that they’ll last all year, so you'll make a berry mash and hang it out to make fruit leather, you make a lot of jerky out of dried fish and meat. There’s actually a lot more to eat than you might think.
Is there anything you’ve retained from that diet that you still like to prepare?
Wild rice and maple syrup combinations are really wonderful—I never would have had wild rice without that experience.
During Survivorman, I learned to sun-dry Arctic char, and I still love that.