There's a good chance you'd die hunting or harvesting these 5 foods

Jelisa Castrodale

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For 18 days last month, the entire world seemed to be equal parts captivated, terrified and hopeful as we waited for those 12 young soccer players and their coach to be rescued from a cave in Thailand. While Navy SEALS and dive experts tried to figure out how to reach the boys through the increasingly dangerous underground passages, a group of eight birds’ nest hunters were part of a team exploring the mountain almost 3,200 feet above, wondering if there could be a way to get to them from the top down.


Maann Thonglao was one of the men who left his regular dangerous job of collecting edible birds’ nests to travel 1,200 miles north and take part in an equally dangerous venture. “Normally we work at about 300 meters high [to collect birds nests]. But on this job, we are getting as high as 500 or 600 meters,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We found a couple of holes, we tried to get into them but they were dead ends.”

As we all held our breath, all of the boys and their coach were successfully rescued during a daring three-day operation. Thonglao and his fellow nest collectors presumably boarded a flight south and resumed their work in a different set of caves, climbing bamboo scaffolding and rickety ladders to gather swiftlet nests. Despite being made entirely of bird spit, the nests are considered a delicacy and are a crucial ingredient in birds’ nest soup. Thonglao said that his terrifying cave climbs are worth it, because the nests can sell for up to $1,200 per kilogram, depending on their quality.

Thonglao is far from being the only person who is willing to risk his life for some of the world’s most decadent, expensive or exceedingly rare foods. Here are four other edibles that require crazy risks and death-defying hunts before they end up on a menu.


Ocean conservation organization Oceana says that the stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world. In addition to being terrifically unattractive – stonefish isn’t just a clever name – its dorsal fins contain a neurotoxin that is deadly enough to kill an adult within an hour. (And even if it doesn’t kill you, you might wish it had. An Irishman who stepped on one during an Australian vacation said that 'excruciating' doesn’t even begin to describe the pain. "I've been through pain in the past where I've needed a screw in my skull and nothing compares to this,” he said.)

One episode of the web series Food to Die For followed a group of divers who are willing to ignore the risks and collect these “little death traps,” as the host called them. The fish are hard to see when they wedge themselves between rock formations and harder to catch in a thin net – especially when the only “diving gear” you’re using is whatever t-shirt you had on and a hose to breathe with. When the divers collect enough of them, the fish are sold to chefs who have a license to prepare them. After the spine and those nasty little fins are removed, the remaining meat is completely safe, and is often served as sashimi.


In Sri Lanka, India, and parts of Southeast Asia, a pleasantly intoxicating drink is made from the sap of assorted palm trees. In Sri Lanka and the Kerala region of India, it is known as toddy and the men who climb the trees to collect it are known as “toddy tappers.” The job looks like it could terrify the most seasoned circus performers: the tappers walk across tightropes stretched from the top of one tree to the next, and they precariously balance themselves while they slice the flower stalks and collect the sap in pots.

“The job is dangerous,” the Global Press Journal said, reinforcing the obvious. “The ropes are slippery and decay quickly. The wind sends them swinging. Wasps swarm at the treetops, and [the tapper] Upali sets a piece of paper ablaze to chase them away.” The Journal followed Upali as he worked in Sri Lanka, watching him perform his “perilous journey in the sky.” Upali followed his father into that profession and had been working as a tapper for more than 40 years. His father died on the job, at age 65.

Goose Barnacles

If you took Maann Thonglao’s birds’ nest hunters and made them do their jobs underwater, while being battered by waves, pulled by unyielding currents and blown about by the wind, then they’d pretty much be percebeiros, the divers who harvest goose barnacles (also called gooseneck barnacles or percebes). Every year, an average of five percebeiros die trying to scrape these high-priced crustaceans off the rocks on parts of the Spanish and Portuguese coasts.

One location that is well-known among barnacle hunters is called Costa de la Muerte, or the Coast of Death. “In the past five centuries more than 500 ships have capsized and thousands of seamen drowned. Many of these were percebeiros,” The Telegraph wrote. “Recently a 28-year-old died when a wave threw him so violently on to a rock that he was knocked unconscious and drowned.”

Like the birds’ nest hunters, these men (and a few women) have decided that the risks are worth the financial reward: goose barnacles are one of the most expensive kinds of seafood in the world. The Telegraph says that, before certain festivals, they can sell for up to €300 ($350) per kilo at auction, and some percebeiros say they can earn €1,000 ($1,170) in a day.

Nepalese Honey

Much like toddy tapping, collecting hallucinogenic honey in Nepal is a centuries-old tradition and it is also extraordinarily dangerous. And the Guring, a Nepalese ethnic group, are the ones who have always done it. Not only do they have to deal with, you know, ANGRY BEES, they also have do do it while they’re standing on a flimsy rope ladder and leaning against a sheer rock face, 300-plus feet above the equally unforgiving ground.

They chisel the honeycombs off the rocks using a bamboo tool called a tango, and use a second tango to hold the basket that they put their stash in. Oh, and they’re getting stung, like, 40 or 50 times on their hands or in the face.  “At first, I am very scared going down the ladder," one Gurung hunter told VICE. “But when I see the hives, I get filled with power and become fearless."


Jelisa Castrodale

About Jelisa Castrodale

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