In this game you have to eat. If you don?t, or you don?t eat proper food, you?ll lose max hp, max stamina or max mana, and you will lose weight (which will give you additional penalties). Mauzi already wrote a rather comprehensive guide to the food system. The purpose of this guide is different. I plan to explain how a single character, without support from alts, guilds, merchants, etc, can still be fully effective. I am not telling you how to gain weight, how to lose weight, or similar other stuff. I am just telling you how to keep your reserves and weight and still keep going on what you were doing with minimal effort .
Basically this guide is born from the experience of a scout character, who dies a lot (often falling from cliffs, more rarely from pks). This means that he loses his share of health reserves and the food he had with him at the moment (which means he can?t rely on food a cook prepared to him). Also, since he runs a lot around he also regularly lose a good amount of stamina reserves too. I?d venture to say that the stamina reserves he loses are higher than the health reserves. Mana reserves he doesn?t use, but as you will see that is the lesser problem anyway.
A proper cook should have lots of primary skills. But you are not a cook. You are a fighter/mage/archer/tamer/whatever. You just want to keep going on doing what you do, and not losing weight while doing it, right? So you don?t have primaries to waste. This is one of the reasons I find the cooking system an almost perfect system. Go buy the cooking and cooking tools skillbooks right now, because they are secondary. Every character should have them, maxed out. You will also need to learn some primary lore skills but if you have high int you can just get by with the bonus int points. If you have low int you might want (if you so wish, but i don?t think it is really necessary) the whoopping amount of 27 skillpoints shared among three primary skills. Those primary skills are Botany, Animal materials and its subskill Flesh lore. I actually got by only using botany and never bothered with animal material, but if you fight a lot (i.e. you lose a lot of health) you might want them. If you really need health food and you have no access to meat sources of any kind, you might want also consider to invest some primary points in butchery. Finally you will need the secondary subskills of the above-mentioned primaries, most notably carpology, pork meat lore, glires meat lore, beef meat lore.
How to cope with being alone and afraid in the night.
Ok, you just died. You run or teleported to a priest and get resurrected. Now you are naked, without food on you and your reserves have just plummeted. If you died with full reserves you can probably go right back to do what you were doing. If your reserves were already low when you died though, the first point in your agenda should be: GO TO SLEEP NOW. Sleep until your reserves do not go up anymore (i.e. the grey bars on your health stamina and mana display have completely disappeared).
Then, the second point in your agenda, which should be done even if you died with full reserves, should be to get your hands on proper food. For a stamina-based character like mine, an adequate food is fruit, so just find a fruit tree (they are all over nave), gather all the fruit you can and then ?cook? it without tools (which basically means peeling the fruit, getting rid of seeds, etc). For a mana-based char, most fruit gives an excellent boost to mana reserves, in addition to stamina.
Some fruit will also give you some health reserves, but that?s very much hit and miss. For a character who needs lots of health reserves you can?t just rely on fruit, you need meat. So go hunting whatever is easy with starting sword and skin them using that puny flesh lores you learned. The skills above will allow you to obtain meat from rabbits, pigs and wisents. If you bring both animal materials and flesh lore at 15 you can also learn venison lore which allows you to get meat from springboks. Obviously using the skinning knife with low butchery and low lores is going to be very inefficient, but you are trying to survive here, not to make money. Now, like for fruit, just ?cook? the meat without tools, i.e. make it raw. This will get you some health food. Depending on the type of meat you might even get some stamina out of it, but it?s also very hit or miss, so if you need stamina reserves too it?s good to mix it with some fruit.
In both cases you should stop eating the moment the health or stamina reserves hit the maximum level, otherwise you will start gaining weight. Besides, you will be filling up your hunger bar for nothing.
My scout died a good amount of time, but I slept every time I died, and whenever I got the chance I collected some fruits and ate them, until my stamina reserves were maxed. Often times my stamina reserves would not max out but they were filled enough to absorb the impact of another death. Health reserves were often very low (due to eating only fruit), so each death might have had an impact on my weight. To offset that, when I had the occasion to max out stamina reserves I ate a little more, just to offset the effects on weight of my 5/6 deaths. The result was that I never lost 1 kg nor I lost any weight. Despite dying at least 5/6 times and wasting tons of stamina reserves. In conclusion I think it is viable to actually live on your own without ever mixing yourself with cooks, provided you take some care in sleeping and eating.
What is written above is what you should do if you don?t know cooks, and at the same time want to involve yourself to the smallest amount possible with the food system. Obviously you might want to use more primary points if you want more effectiveness. A stamina or mana based character might put 100 SP in botany (and carpology) to get a much more effective food from fruits. A health based character might want to put 100 or even 200 skillpoints in animal materials, flesh lores and subskill to enhance the animals he can hunt and the effectiveness of him cooking their meat.
Why even having cooks then?
Because what I have suggested up to now is inefficient, and should be done only when you have no other way. With cooks you get much better food than you can cook without lores, which mean you can gain weight much easily, and use up much less hunger, you need less or no time hunting/gathering, you get much better sofistication (whatever its uses might be), etc?