The Native American Diet

Native Americans eat what other Americans do; and as such, they are subject to being overweight like the rest. The scales tell the tale for most everyone these days who eats fast food, processed goods, and too many carbs. Bread, potatoes, sweets—these are the bane of modern man’s existence whatever his race or gender. It seems to plague this group as it does Latinos, and we sadly wonder why. Does it have to do with genetics, one’s pocketbook, or other factors unknown? It wasn’t always this way.

It is hard to have the time in our busy lives to prepare healthy food from raw ingredients, so we do the easy thing and rush out to the nearest McDonald’s. It is quick, easy, and pretty tasty—but, oh, the calories. A burger with all the trimmings can be 1,000 or more. A normal diet is 2,000 a day, so what can we do? We want protein but we need to find it in a better form. Let’s not knock American culture and its indigenous cuisine. But we do have to find alternatives.

Our modern bathroom scales remind us daily of a task that is at hand if we want to abort diabetes and other forms of ill health that will shorten our lives. Native Americans can stick with the best aspects of their diet like corn and grains, but eschew eating carbs too often. They can grill meat and enjoy a marinade, but avoid sauces. It’s the same the world over. We are not in the 19th century any more.

In the days of the old West, fat burning was not an issue. Everyone was running around doing something that took care of excess calories. Native Americans were taking care of their land, growing and irrigating crops, bartering them for other goods, and so on. Agriculture was a way of life. You could control your intake just by consuming what was available, because it was basic and pure. Additives today wreak havoc with our metabolism not to mention all the extras like catchup and mustard. These condiments are full of sugar and calories.

Native Americans in Alaska eat different foods than those residing in the southwest. Of course fish is their staple. Elsewhere, the food is diverse. In the olden days, Indians were sometimes nomadic in order to hunt in new places, but many remained in one place if the crop yields were good. They also had domestic animals, as they do today. If resources were plentiful, the tribe would thrive. There would be enough for all as a rule.

Cooking was simple. Fresh meat was usually unseasoned but tasty enough. It was roasted over a fire or gilled on hot stones. As for fish, you had the option of baking or smoking. There was plenty of corn-on-the-cob and the vegetable was also used as meal. A treat was corn bread made in a clay oven. It appears that most tribes had corn or maize. Others had beans, squash, wild rice, potatoes, peppers, peanuts, pumpkins, sunflowers, and tomatoes.

When the Europeans arrived, their influence was pervasive and soon appeared many new plants and animals such as wheat, sheep, and cows. Lucy tribes had meat-heavy diets and still do. Over the course of centuries there was buffalo, deer, caribou, elk and rabbit. You will also find fish, duck, geese, and turkey. Nothing was to be wasted if it came from the land. Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and wild plums were often rampant.

Farming tribes like the Navajos were enriched by European additions to the traditional crops. The new food by now is old hat. Lifestyles indeed changed. The buffalo was disappearing, killed off in droves. The Native Americans in these areas had to adapt. Ranches that raise buffalo still exist even if many natural areas have been cleared. Hunting and trapping will never go completely out of style, however rare it may be at present.

The biggest change was moving to reservations from original homelands. The residents had to be resourceful to provide fodder for life. New forms of agriculture had to be devised that suited the land and its climate. Most were able to conquer the elements.

Now if you think of Native American traditional food, and you are not geographically specific, you might come up with wild rice and cranberries (from Northeast woodland tribes), corn cakes, blueberry wojapa pudding (from the Sioux), fry bread, and more. If you were a spy in a reservation home, you might see succotash, bean or fruit salad.