Can a person really live off of shoe leather or belts?

We’ve all seen the cartoons about the starving person being forced to eat their belts or their shoe leather. Is this possible? Can a person really derive calories and energy from this stuff?

Yes, Charles Chaplin proved you can eat shoes. He did for his film *The Gold Rush (1925) *.
Eating shoes is also mentioned in White Fang by Jack London.

It should be pointed out that since the end of the nineteenth century, commercially produced leather is tanned and processed using chemicals that would make it highly poisonous to eat. Eating leather was a cliche’ even by London’s time.

Hardly a good example; the shoe Chaplin ate was made out of licorice.

WHAT?! We’ve had licorice shoes for over 75 years and this is the first anybody’s seen fit to let me know?

for shame.


Do you have a cite for that, or know what chemicals are used in the modern tanning process ? I’d expect you could get rid of most by repeated boiling and water changes.

Nobody likes to discuss that because since the end of the nineteenth century, commercially produced licorice is tanned and processed using chemicals that would make it highly poisonous to eat.

However, with respect to Jack London’s times in Alaska, I’d bet a lot of shoes were simple rawhide, stretched, dried, and coated with beeswax.

I think I’d have to be pretty damn hungry to consider eating my shoes or belt!

Mind you thats nothing compared to this guy

Eat my shorts!

It’s been done quite a few times in extreme situations. One thoroughly documented case - Lewis and Clark’s expedition nearly starved in the Rocky Mountains (In those days, Elk and Deer preferred to be in the now-populated valleys during wintertime) and they supped on a horse head, and various leather items like moccosins. Bleh. I’m sure salt improves the flavor, wouldn’t you agree?

that’s not our Mangetout, is it?

I subbed a history class in a junior high, and they had to watch a documentary about the Donner party that got caught in the winter storms while crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains into California.

It specifically mentioned them eating leather after the normal food and the animals.

Another couple of historical records, both on PBS specials this month:
Jamestown diaries noted eating leather hats, shoes, and coats, before they eventually ate their dead.
Also, Magellan’s crew recorded eating all their leather, and also some rope, after they ran out of food, gulls, and rats, crossing the Pacific (took them 9 months and they had brough food for just 3)

What about eating cotton? How much energy can you derive from cellulose, which I see is just a polymer of glucose?

When your shoes & belt are gone, is it time to eat your underwear?

Humans lack an enzyme necessary to digest cellulose. If you are down to paper and underwear, you’d best ferment it for several days, or have a cow spit on it. Bacteria and cow saliva both contain enzymes that can convert cellulose into edible sugars.

Mais non.

What is it with bumping old threads at the moment? Stop it! Think of the hamsters!

Chaplin may have cheated, but Werner Herzog didn’t

The question foremost in my mind is whether these guys survivied because of eating their shoes, or despite it. The outdoor ed books I’ve read suggest you can go a month without eating before you die of starvation, so that’s usually a low priority in the lost-in-the-woods scenarios they’re preparing the reader for…

The time limit of a month is dependent on weather conditions, surely… if it’s really cold you’ll burn energy a lot faster.

That’s what I was thinking of. I did all the Politically Correct things you board mavens say: I searched first, debated in my heart of hearts whether it made more sense to start a new thread and link to it, causing every reader to bring up two threads, recapitulate it all in one huger OP, etc., and then decided it was better this way.
If you really care about hamsters, give people some credit. When the topic is done it sinks out of sight by itself. All you did was bring it back twice more (once to twit me and once to get your answer). So there, smartypants.