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Food is anything dwarves eat to ward off starvation. If dwarves are not able to attain sustenance then they will get hungry, have bad thoughts, and eventually die. Dwarves can withstand hunger for a while in order to continue working, but will gain bad thoughts from doing so. If food is available at the time, dwarves will preferentially eat before starting a task, but will try to finish their active task to the point of starvation once actually started. If tasks are very long (for example, inexperienced strand extraction, interactions with large stacks such as bones etc), this can leave the dwarf Hungry and they will eat after finishing their task. To combat the negative thoughts of this common situation, a high quality dining room is recommended.
Dwarves require 2 units of food and 4 units of drink each season.
Eating good food will make your dwarves happy, so a good cook is an excellent investment. Also, each dwarf has a preference for certain foods. Both starting dwarves and immigrants only have preferences for "dwarven" food (basically underground crops and meat the dwarven caravan brings). They will however gain new favorites if you present them with human and elven products (above ground crops e.g.) If you want a colorful game or need any food you can get, fire away. If however you want to optimize happiness from food but still keep stock menues small and tidy, be cautious about what you trade with caravans. For example, presumably, expensive meat makes your dwarves happier than cheap mule meat, but any plants the elves bring are not more valuable than your own.
The possible sources of food are farming, plant gathering, fishing, trading, butchering animals, hunting, milking, eggs and beekeeping.
Farming is the most renewable. On maps where they are highly accessible, fishing and hunting can provide large quantities of food quickly, but tend to be less reliable than farming. Butchering animals is often the best option in a pinch.
When starving, dwarves will catch and consume vermin to survive, resulting in an unhappy thought.
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.
- Honeycomb has to be pressed into honey (screw press)
- Eggs have to be cooked (kitchen)
- Quarry bushes must be processed to bag in a farmer's workshop.
Unprocessed food and non-food crops will be stored in a food stockpile and take up barrel space; the bookkeeper can tell you how much of each type of "food" you have in the stocks screen.
Organs are edible without cooking.