Book Review: Lost in the Taiga by Vasily Peskov

This is the story of the Lykovs, a crazy Russian family who’s strict religious beliefs led them to live like like anarcho-primitivists isolated in the Russian Taiga for over thirty years. It’s very interesting for the social/religious aspects as well as the wealth of survivalist type information.

The Lykov’s brought seeds with them when they dissapeared into the wilderness, and over thirty years later they were still gardening from those same seeds. They lived mostly on potatoes and pine nuts, though they also dug pit traps for “deer” and other large animals. In the summer they gathered and dried wild nettles that they ate all winter with their potatoes (they even made a sort of bread from potatoes). They used birch bark for shoes and containers, but not for medicine. Their medicine, though vastly unsophisticated (they had two kinds of sickness: cold, and “the strain”) kept the family patriarch alive to the ripe old age of 87.

Apparently lack of salt was a major health issue for them. That’s something I had never thought of. Salt. Do we really need it? Where can we get it, if we don’t live near the ocean?

Although the author doesn’t explore it specifically, I also found the shifts in self awareness throughout the book really interesting. In the begining of the book, the Lykovs seem unaware of how they appear to others. They are, however, very aware and firm in their own beliefs (offered canned food, rice, etc., they always responded “we are not allowed”), and constantly aware of their God’s perception of them. In the middle of the book Agafia, the 37 year old daughter who had never seen a human outside her family before they were “discovered,” goes to visit relatives in an Old Believer’s sect (which, I gather, is rather the equivelent of an Amish community). When she comes back she washes the windows and her hands. She becomes embarrassed, at times. The author’s perception and explanation of this is endearing and interesting, as well.

All in all, this is a fascinating book. It is the only true account I’ve found of a group of people actually dropping out of civilization and their survival.

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  1. I’ve heard that cultures that lived far inland (on turtle island) used to trade for salt, it was that important.

    I do think that salt is important to human health, but I also think it’s strange that that is so. Maybe it’s something to do with eating cooked foods? Any raw foodies do without salt?

  2. Salt is a seasoning and preservative. It was used in preserving meats, in particular, prior to the advent of refrigeration.

    Salt licks are not uncommon, at some streams, and were sought out by early explorers as a source of salt and a place where game congregated.

  3. Salt is essential for human survival. The body uses sodium chloride as an electrolyte to regulate blood pressure and other important bodily functions. Without it, electrolytes become imbalanced and death can result.

  4. Yes, raw foodies often do without salt. The need for salt has a lot to do with eating cooked foods, especially greens, grains, and beans. Animals that graze on greens and grains especially need salt to help their metabolism. I keep Celtic sea salt in my larder but because of my predominantly frugarian diet it is rarely used. Eating LOTS of fruit and a lesser percentage of sprouted seeds and nuts keeps the metabolism happy without added salt, sugar, or even spices.

    Regarding sodium chloride, the problem is that buying salt like Morton’s means you are getting only a refined sodium chloride which is not natural at all–it over burdens the organs to get rid of it. Salt licks and sea salt from dehydrating shallows of ocean, these will give you a more natural variety of minerals used by the body. You need the full range of necessary electrolyte components (sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate), plus trace minerals which the ocean contains.

    As for a diet of potatoes, that would be a big no-no for health because potatoes need to be cooked to be consumed. Anything that needs cooking is difficult to digest. We are the only animals on earth that cook our food and as a result our civilization, along with our companion animals, contends with the diseases of civilation: high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and cancer. It is rare to find these diseases in any population of animals except those that eat cooked foods.

  5. Ok, wackiness about cooked foods being difficult to digest aside (um, no – simply not true) the human body needs salt, as desertgirl wrote. We are not the only animals that “cook our food” – plenty of other animals eat food that has become overripe in the sun, which is simply mother natures way of breaking down the food further. Cooking is the same thing. High blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attack and cancer are not the “diseases of civilization” whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. All of those conditions occur within animals and primates in nature.

    Anyway, even if you don’t live near the ocean, there are mineral salt deposits. They can be difficult to find though and are valuable. Maybe you’ve heard of Salzburg, Austria? It means “Salt Town” and has huge ancient salt mines.

    Now, what I really wanted to tell you about are Russian Orthodox “old believers”, or староверы. They are not like Amish people at all. They are a division or schism within the Russian Orthodox church, they stuck with some old beliefs and are generally rather fervent. Even among old believers, there is much argument and debate, they all believe other old believers aren’t being true to the church and don’t acknowledge one another. So they are far from a unified people. Generally they exist within Russia today within small villages or communities. They also have enclaves or groups throughout the world and United States. For old believers, the Lykovs are even a bit out there.

    Anyway, I’m sure you can look up this information yourself, but there is a lengthy article on the topic on wikipedia:

  6. The human body gets salt naturally from eating a diet of unprocessed and uncooked natural foods. Has anyone ever seen an animal in nature eat a “sun-cooked” fruit and add salt to it? And where are the studies that prove that animals eating natural foods in nature suffer from the diseases of civilization? Understandably, there are a lot of misconceptions about the unnatural “civilized” diet and the associated diseases of civilization which are already well documented in the JAMA. A natural diet of whole foods as they come to us in nature seems to suffer from a lack of an advertising budget and a lobby. Tsk-tsk.

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