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Stefansson describes the difference between fat and protein starvations and explains a real world case of such sicknesses.

December 28, 1909

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My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 8

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Man The Fat Hunter
Facultative Carnivore
Eskimo
Fat
Protein
Carnivore Diet

I did now what I should have done the day before approached the animals directly, got within two hundred and fifty yards and secured them all . They turned out to be two young bulls and a cow with a calf. I did not stop to skin them, but covered them hastily with snow so as to prevent their freezing quickly, and made for the river as fast as I could , hoping to overtake Ilavinirk before he had moved camp far; for we had agreed in the morning before I left that he was to proceed up river on the presumption that I would be unsuccessful in the day's hunt and get as far south as possible, - we thought the farther south we got, the better our prospects. 


Ilavinirk had gone about the programme energetically , and it was only after about ten miles of hard running that I overtook him getting ready to pitch camp in the mouth of a small creek. Daylight was gone and both Ilavinirk and Palaiyak were played out, so that we had to camp where we were and take the chance of wolverines and wolves stealing our precious meat during the night. The next day, when we went to fetch the meat, we found that a wolverine had eaten up a portion of one of the caribou. We shot the wolverine, and as its meat was much fatter and juicier than the caribou meat, it paid us well for the little it had stolen. 


Our hunt had begun well. There is a saying that “well begun is half done.” In our case well begun was four fifths done, for another week of hunting gave us only one caribou, which I shot by moonlight one early morning the only caribou I have ever shot by moon light, although since then I have killed more than one wolf by night. 


This hunt, like the one before, I broke up rather sooner than I otherwise might, with the idea that Anderson must surely have returned by now and that I would get him and Natkusiak to help me. Considering how sick and weak he was, Ilavinirk’s conduct at this time was worthy of the highest admiration , but of course he could not do the work of a well man. We had hunted south about forty miles without finding the caribou there any more numerous than they were near home. Our return journey took us two days, and we got home on the evening of January 5th, to find that Ander son had not yet arrived . 


On the days between December 28, 1909, and January 8, 1910, there are no entries in my diary, for on every one of those days I was off hunting during the hours of daylight and we had no light in the house at night by which diary entries could be written. We had now been nearly a month without oil or fat of any kind, either for food or for light. But on January 8th the women, after gathering together all the old bones and breaking them up, had succeeded in boiling a little tallow out of them, and by its light I made the diary entries for the past ten days from memory, while the women mended clothes and did other sewing they had been unable to do before for want of light. 


Of our entire seven I was now the only one not actually sick , and I felt by no means well . Doing hard work in cold weather on a diet nearly devoid of fat is a most interesting and uncommon experi ment in dietetics, and may therefore be worth describing in some detail. The symptoms that result from a diet of lean meat are practically those of starvation . The caribou on which we had to live had marrow in their bones that was as blood, and in most of them no fat was discernible even behind the eyes or in the tongue. When we had been on a diet of oil straight, a few weeks before, we had found that with a teacupful of oil a day there were no symptoms of hunger ; we grew each day sleepier and more slovenly, and no doubt lost strength gradually , but at the end of our meals of long - haired caribou skin and oil we felt satisfied and at ease. Now with a diet of lean meat everything was different. We had an abundance of it as yet and we would boil up huge quantities and stuff ourselves with it . We ate so much that our stomachs were actually distended much beyond their usual size — so much that it was distinctly noticeable even outside of one's clothes. But with all this gorging we felt continually hungry. Simultaneously we felt like unto bursts ing and also as if we had not had enough to eat . One by one the six Eskimo of the party were taken with diarrhoea. 


By the 10th of January things were getting to look serious indeed. It was apparent not only that we could not go on indefinitely without fat, but it was also clear that even our lean meat would last only a few days longer. We had on December 11th estimated that we had two months' supplies of meat, and now in a month they were gone. Our estimate had not been really wrong, for if we had had a little fat to go with the meat, it would no doubt have lasted at least sixty days, but without the fat we ate such incredible quantities that it threw all our reckoning out of gear. It was not only that we ate só much, but also the dogs. They had been fed more meat than dogs usually get and still they were nothing but skin and bones, for they could not, any more than we, get along on lean meat only. 


The caribou in the neighborhood were increasing in numbers now and I saw them almost every day, but I had the most outrageous luck. One day, for instance, I saw a band in clear, calm weather ; it was one of those deathly still days when the quietest step on the softest snow can be heard by man or beast for several hundred yards. As the animals were quiet I did not dare to attempt approaching them, thinking that the next day might be cloudy or windy or in some way more suitable to deer- stalking, for it is a noticeable fact that even though the day be practically still, the condition of the air when the sky is clouded is such as to muffle any noise and to make the approach to deer within , say , a hundred yards feasible. The next day was windy, but altogether too windy, for it was one of those blind ing blizzards when it is impossible to see more than forty or fifty feet. Because our condition was desperate, I nevertheless hunted that day and walked back and forth over the place where the caribou had been the day before, knowing that it was possible, although unlikely, that I might fall in with the animals. I did not fall in with them , however, and the next day was a blizzard of the same kind and my hunt had the same result. The third day Ilavinirk and I went out together and found the caribou still, strange to say, in the same spot, but a half mile or so before we came up to them a fawn suddenly appeared on the top of a hill near us and saw us. It is the nature of a frightened caribou to run toward any caribou that are in the neighborhood and to frighten them away also, so that there was nothing for us to do but to shoot this fawn, although we knew that the shooting would scare the large band away, which it did. 


January 11th Ilavinirk and I were again out looking for caribou. He used to accompany me in the morning on the chance of our see ing something near home, but as his strength did not allow a long day's hunt he would return early while I went on as much farther as the daylight allowed. On this day we saw simultaneously to the north of us a caribou on top of one hill and three men on top of another hill. These must be Anderson, Natkusiak , and Pikaluk, we thought, and evidently they were hunting the same caribou that we saw. It was one of those still days, however, so that the chance of shooting him was not great for either party. We headed towards the caribou and so did the three men, but the caribou ran away long before we got near it. 


It turned out that these three men were not the ones we had expected, however, but three Eskimo, one of whom, Memoranna, is well known under the name of Jimmie to those who have read Amundsen's account of the Northwest Passage voyage. The others were Okuk, a Baillie Islands man , and a Mackenzie River “boy,” Tannaumirk, who was really about twenty-five years of age but who has an appearance and a disposition that preclude his being considered as grown up. They had come the 200-mile journey from the Baillie Islands to visit us with the hope of being able to get some caribou skins for clothing. They had had no particular luck so far in their hunts, but they had with them a little seal oil which they immediately offered to share with us. That night, therefore, we had lights again in our house and plenty of oil to eat. It was only a matter of two or three days from that time until all of us were in good form again.