You could live for four years on the cheese in a supermarket

Unless you die of boredom

The key to survival here is liquids.
  • The key to survival here is liquids.
  • Image by Rick Geary

To: Matmail: Here’s an easy one (I think). How long will the food in an average supermarket last a person if he were unfortunate enough to be locked inside until he starved or dehydrated? Will he die of natural causes? — Wavewatcher, the Net

Easy? Ha! Trying to figure the total calories in all the grub in the local ChowMart, a couple of the M.A. staff elves finally wigged out somewhere in the cookie-and-cracker aisle. They’re on medical leave till June. And we still haven’t heard back from the one assigned to tote up the food energy in three dozen African violets on sale in the live-plants department. As for stuff like denture adhesive and rawhide dog chews and birthday cards — well, you’re on your own there. So it’s been anything but easy. Though it’s definitely been weird, which is almost as good.

The average human bean can live maybe five days without water, though after day three you’ll be convinced that Betty Crocker is hitting on you and all the frozen turkeys can dance. By comparison, you can go for several weeks without food before you croak. So the key to survival here is liquids. I really shouldn’t give you credit for anything but water, ice cubes, and whatever frost you can scrape off the freezer bins; but I’ve included juices, tea, milk, sodas, and a guesstimate at the liquid content of fruits and veggies (canned and otherwise). At a bare minimum of 1.5 liters of liquid a day, you could probably hang on for 40 years or so. We bypassed the beer, wine, and booze department, since they are water-wasters in the human body. (So are most carbonated and caffeinated drinks, but we were too lazy to make a separate count.)

You’d run out of things to drink before you ran out of calories from all the other stuff on the shelves, assuming you can choke down the likes of cake mix and birdseed and instant coffee powder. Figuring the average man can do fine on 1800 calories a day, in my local groceteria, you could live for four years on the calories in the cheese section alone. The pancake syrup would keep you going for 4!/2 months. You’d only survive until lunchtime in the parsley bin, but if you sprinkle it on all the mustard in the store, you’re good for 42 days. You can then pig out for three weeks in the bacon section, stuff yourself with bananas for 35 days, and wallow in yogurt for another 38. Even the dried fruit-and-seed gerbil treats would keep you lively for about 24 hours.

You ask what you’d finally die of. Dehydration is the biggest risk. But me, I’d die of fluorescent-light poisoning or boredom.

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