A healthy adult dwarf consumes 8 to 9 units of food per year.
For details on the different ways to obtain food, see the Food guide.
 Food is essential
Food is the only resource that a dwarf will die from not having access to. This makes food crucial to the survival of your fortress. Before you know it your 200 population will dive-bomb right down to 10 or even lower. Your population will go on a downward spiral because of all the Miasma and dead bodies, and of course you'll have fewer farmers/hunters to generate new food. If you're very lucky you can start again in another area, or you can get some helpful migrants.
Remember to keep a large stockpile of food. If you do not have food;
- Dwarves will become unhappy and generate bad thoughts
- Dwarves will start hunting for vermin instead of doing important jobs
- Dwarves will get upset and start breaking things
- Dwarves will get mad and start trying to kill each other
- Dwarves will die from starvation
- The new dead bodies will only make everyone even more depressed
The possible sources of food are farming, plant gathering, fishing, trading, butchering animals, hunting, and a few exotic processes. Farming is by far the most reliable, plant gathering is perhaps the easiest to manage, and fishing is good early in a fortresses' life. If you are constantly experiencing problems with starvation, you are well advised to look into additional means of procuring food.
Some food is inedible raw, and needs processing first. For example:
- Fat must be rendered (kitchen) into tallow and then cooked (kitchen)
- Raw fish must be cleaned (fishery)
- Sweet pods must be either milled into dwarven sugar (mill/quern), processed to barrels of dwarven syrup (farmer's workshop), or brewed into barrels of dwarven rum (brewery) before they can finally be cooked (kitchen)
- Cave wheat, Whip vine and Longland grass must be milled into their respective flours and cooked.
- Milk has to be cooked or turned into cheese.
A dwarf with the "Eat" task will pick up a unit of food, often according to his or her dietary preferences, but also influenced by proximity and age of the item (new first), then bring it to an available table or chair for consumption. A private room will normally be chosen over a public room; for this reason, note that a dwarf who owns a table-less office but no dining room will complain about the lack of tables, even if a high-quality public dining room is available. This problem is easily solved by adding a table next to such an office-chair (like you would in a dining room). Also note that eating in a high-quality dining room does wonders for a dwarf's mood.
Dwarves will eat two meals per season on average, and drink four drinks. A fortress of 100 dwarves will thus consume 800 meals (food-units) and 1600 drinks (booze-units) in a single year. Plan your stockpiles accordingly.
Plants can be grown underground or on the surface, and a single dedicated grower/harvester can produce enough food for all but the largest of fortresses. The advantages of plants are the infinite and readily available supply, and the versatility; plants can be brewed, made into clothing and dye, and also used as further ingredients for cooking. Further processing plants leads to greater amount delivered as an end product. The small disadvantage is its potential for continuous growth - when you do produce more plants than your dwarves eat, food stockpiles will eventually fill up with plants, potentially leaving no room for other foods such as meat, fish, or prepared meals. Check occasionally and possibly let your plots lie fallow for some time.
Meat can be obtained from hunting and fishing, as well as raising livestock. If vermin are left unchecked, uncooked meat and fish will succumb to wear and eventually rot, even on stockpiles, and even in barrels. The advantages are the additional skills raised during hunting, and there is less mass labor required for butchering meat or cleaning fish than planting a seed, harvesting, eating or processing the crop, and storing the seed in a stockpile. Cleaned fish leave behind bones, and turtles also leave behind shells. Animals, when butchered, leave behind large stacks of bones, tallow, and usually raw hides and skulls. An export industry devoted to bone crafts can be worthwhile, and marksdwarves always benefit from a cheap supply of bolts made from bone. The disadvantages are a limited supply of food; in the current version, wildlife and fish are eventually depleted from a map, so larger fortresses usually cannot be supported with hunting/fishing alone. There is also no way to make alcohol from animals, so without trading, some plants are necessary. Finally, even though livestock breeding can be unlimited, the additional units on the map required for this to work put additional strain on the CPU, slowing the game down.
On occasion, if you have a trapper that has captured a live vermin creature in an animal trap, a dwarf may eat that creature instead of other food, even if the dwarf detests said vermin. Strangely, this does not seem to make the dwarf unhappy.
Food is stored in food stockpiles and may be placed in barrels. Seeds (and powders, such as flour or dye) are put in bags, which are themselves stored within barrels. Meat and prepared meals will rot (becoming inedible) if not placed on a stockpile within a month or so. Plants not on a stockpile will wither, which also makes them inedible but does not produce miasma. Food on a stockpile will never rot, nor will food in a barrel even if it is not on a stockpile. Seeds will never rot no matter where they are.
According to Toady, vermin can eat your food, even when it is on a stockpile (although the amount they eat appears to be quite minimal). Food located inside the fortress and in barrels is less likely to be eaten by vermin.
Raw food can be cooked into "prepared meals" at a kitchen. Cooked meals have a quality modifier, and a high quality meal is far more valuable as a trade item or in generating happy thoughts in the dwarf eating that meal. The wider the variety of ingredients that a meal contains, the greater the number of dwarves who will have a preference for that meal. Cooking destroys all seeds, shells and bones.
See Also: Kitchen