One question often asked when talking about dwarves is… “what did they eat under their mountain?”
Well we know dwarves – especially in times of great riches – traded large quantities of food with men. To quote Thorin Oakenshield: “we never bothered to grow or find food ourselves” (-p28 – The Hobbit). To sustain a large population of dwarves however ocasional trade of food from the surface wouldn’t have been enough to prevent mass starvation underground. Which brings us to the question, what is there too eat in dark places of the world ?
Firstly we need to get a bit of an idea of how many dwarves we are feeding. At the end of the Third age dwarven numbers were on the decline, but judging by the dwarven armies, the fact that 1/3 is female and dwarves aren’t exactly rabbits when it comes to reproducing, numbers couldn’t have been much higher then 15.000 at any given time.
Let’s take the Lonely Mountain in 2760 of the Third Age, some ten years before Smaug attacked… The Halls of the Lonely Mountain would have been bursting with dwarven life, likely up to 8.000 dwarves around this time. So this amount of dwarves isn’t fed by the occasional food trade with the men, nor by the stray bat… it would take a food industry to keep them alive and thriving.
If we consider healthy dwarven males and women would eat about 1100 grams a day, And we take into account a population of 8.000, we need just over 3 million kilo’s (6,6 million Lbs) of food per year. If dwarves would rely on trade to feed their own then they would need about 13.000 wagons (230kg a piece) fully loaded with food each year, or about 35 a day. So, I believe it is safe to say there is no way Dale and the surrounding region could have sustained the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.
This creates a major challenge you might think… where do the dwarves find over 3 million kilo’s of food under a mountain ?
Is it even possible ?
Yes, it is… let me tell you how.
First thing you need to know is that bats are the corner stone of the dwarven food-pyramid. Bats are not just hunted on by chance, in order to sustain a dwarven population of several thousands, dwarven cities would have had several dozens of bat farms. Bats aren’t just usefull for their meat, in fact they would have been mainly used for their sh… uhm.. their droppings (guano). Yes you read it correctly, their droppings… which would have provided nutrition for a whole foodchain. The guano is food to countless creatures, including flies, beetles, bugs, millipedes, springtails, cockroaches, worms, mites and moths. These animals are in turn fed upon by the cave crickets, centipedes, scorpions, whip scorpions and spiders. And these provide food for small mammals (rats, cavemice), cavecrabs, frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes and turtles. The dwarves would have farmed many of these animals, sometimes growing them by the millions or billions, either as a direct food source or as food for the dozens of fish, frog and turtle farms found under the dwarven mountains. Bats even provide milk, indeed… bat milk… not going into the details on how they were milked, but trust me, it is possible.
Now in most temperate caves – climates found in most of dwarven caves of Middle Earth – dwarves run into the problem that it is too cold to support the amount of fauna needed to support their population. In order to sustain large amounts of life in caves, the micro climate inside the mountain needs to be warmer, verging on tropical. This allows the bats to breed faster, providing more droppings, which in turn allows the insect population to boom – ensuring a steady food supply for the fish and bat farms under the mountain.
Even in the colder subarctic climates of the Grey Mountains dwarves managed to create different inner climates in their Halls that allowed to sustain the food sources of their population. This is done mainly through creating lava chambers deep in the heart of the mountain and creating steam channels that lead to the various halls in the mountain. Their adapted mountain microclimate would have also provided for quite a few natural salt caves, which isn’t only handy for seasoning or keeping food. In case you believe living underground would be tremendously unhealthy… in our modern times people pay hundreds of dollars to spend a few hours in fake salt caves.
Also, their mirror systems allowed them to channel natural sunlight from openings in the mountain sides to every corner of the underground mountain, even allowing them to grow some vegetables (potatoes and carrots), northern grains and berries deep inside the mountain.
With all of the above in mind, the Lonely Mountain dwarves in our example would have been eating the following over the course of a year (some examples of dishes added there too – by the way these dishes actually exist – so for the squeemish… you’ve been warned)
* 1.190.000 kilo’s of batmeat (crispy fried batwings, batsoup)
* 1.120.000 kilo’s of fish and crab (boiled cavecrabs, cavefish cassarole)
* 146.000 liters of fishoil
* 890.000 kilo’s of bugs (crickets on a stick, cheesy beetle dip, millipede-paté)
* 657.000 kilo’s of snakemeat (snake hotpot)
* 340.000 kilo’s of spiders (fried spiders)
* 124.000 kilo’s of turtlemeat (turtle stew)
* 216.000 liters of batmilk – you would need to milk about 5800 bats for that each day – but still possible though
* 450.000 kilo’s of vegatables (rootpuree, cavepotato soup)
* 235.000 kilo’s of scorpionmeat (scorpion kebab)
* 389.000 loaves of bread
as you can see, no shortage of food in the mountain 😉