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In the AD&D supplement book for elves, it is said that elves eat little meat, do not raise livestock, and survive on the fruits of the forest.

This raises the problem of feeding any population larger than a small village. We also know that cities like Myth Drannor or Leuthilspar (Evermeet) had populations reaching over 40,000.

With such large urban centers, how did they feed themselves?

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    \$\begingroup\$ At long last, someone has finally listened to the often ignored complaint from the Orcs throughout Fearun about the rabid cannibalism - eating of humanoids fallen in battle - practiced by elves, high and low for untold centuries. When we accept the credibility of their long litany of grievances, then we can move forward in understanding the historic antipathy between elves and orcs. "Vegetarians" - right. Their teeth and gums are stained with blood ... even the Hin were not spared these vile depradations! \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 11 at 23:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whilst I did enjoy the humorous response, I would prefer a more canon explanation :) \$\endgroup\$ – Attonwizard May 12 at 8:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course. :-) I am sure one will be forthcoming. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 12 at 12:10
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I’ve done my own research, but I would love to hear more examples if you can find any. This is taken from AD&D’s Elves of Evermeet, The Complete Book of Elves, and sources found on the internet.

  1. Chapter One, page 10:

    Trees are virtually everywhere on the island, even lining the streets of its great cities...Evermeet is a virtual cathedral of trees. The green vitality of their mighty boughs provides sustenance and hope to the elven people. In many ways the trees are Evermeet, and without them, the people would surely waste away and perish. The forests teem with animals of every kind. Bright-colored birds flit through the air, singing merrily. Rabbits, squirrels, mice, and other small mammals are found in abundance, as are stag, boar, bear, and other larger species. None of these creatures is hostile to the elves of Ever- meet, even though the Gold elves hunt them with some regularity. This is considered by the elves to be a sign of the Seldarine’s blessing, and of the eternal covenant between elves and the natural world...Small streams crisscross the island, most filled with trout, crayfish, and fresh-water mussels. These streams are a major source of fresh water for those on the Green Isle. Those attempting to do anything but drink from them will be punished... In the broad, green valley formed by the Ardulith’’s passage and beneath the rugged slopes of the twin ranges, vineyards, fragrant groves of blueleaf, lush meadows, and small farmsteads serve to enhance and complement the beauty of the villas and palaces of the Gold elves, the Ar-Tel’Quessir.

This tells us that elves do occasionally farm, that they love wine (supported by countless other references to elven wines), they do hunt (but it’s not a major food source), and they don’t fish their streams. Though the last example may be unique to Evermeet. However, the only main source of food that the text puts real emphasis on, are the trees (if sustenance is to be taken literally)! This is supported by “The Complete Book of Elves” saying that elves can survive on the fruits of the forest.

  1. Chapter Two, page 46: about Nimlith

    This settlement of about 1,000 is inhabited primarily by Silver elves. Nimlith is a fishing community with a small number of boats that work the waters west of Evermeet. The whitefish, hake, and oceanic salmon brought in by the fisherfolk of Nimlith are transported and consumed throughout the island.

This shows that although the streams of Evermeet are sacred, the ocean is fair game, and that its bounty is consumed throughout the island. This is not the only fishing village on Evermeet, Elion is another such example.

  1. The Complete Book of Elves: This book has an entire paragraph on the elven diet, but it didn’t offer many practical explanations for it. Its content supports our prior evidence: fruits of the forest, they don’t hunt more than they can eat in a day, they require less food than humans... But one major point that isn’t mentioned elsewhere is that elves apparently don’t raise livestock. Which would make dairy a rare treat.

Finally, I could not find the book, but Evereska is surrounded by lands that are used for agriculture, orchards being the main component.

Conclusion

Although Evermeet can hardly be considered conclusive on the eating habits of more regular elven settlements, it does provide insight into their habits: for they would surely be more open-minded (foodwise) in a non-magical/sacred land. We can see that elves practice fishing on a scale capable of feeding their whole island (with over 1M elves), that they occasionally hunt, and that they are no strangers to farming and cultivating the land. Although farms seem to be rare, and they never raise livestock, orchards aren’t. In my mind, however, the number one food source for the elves, are the trees that make up their forests. As a sign of the covenant between the elves and their gods, the forest shall provide.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A figure that's in my head (i.e. I don't know where I got it from) is that for every person living in a pre-industrialized city, ten people must work outside that city to support the city dweller (farming, cottage industries, etc.). Has your research yielded anything like that for these fantasy megacities? Or do the books all say, like, "It's a big city and beyond is untamed wilderness," or something? (In my 3.5 campaigns, I have magic cut that 10 by 1/3 or 1/2 or sometimes to zero with abusive magic like boon traps.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 13 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I’ve found several sources pointing to a population of 1.7M elves on Evermeet, with its biggest city having no more than 50K, so we can assume that most people live in small communities. However I’m not sure how your numbers would work with elves, who don’t need as much food as we do, and who use magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Attonwizard May 13 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unsupported theory: the "fruits of the forest" could easily be goodberry berries. One cast feeds ten people for a day. The Training on DMG 231 can give a feat, which could be Magic Initiate (druid) for goodberry plus two cantrips, which is all very thematic. Or a deity could just grant that spell to a blessed people on a whim. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon May 13 at 16:08

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