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Native American Food

A Healthier Way of Living

Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans

by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD

FAT-SOLUBLE NUTRIENTS

Indians living in coastal areas consumed large amounts of fish, including the heads and roe. Price reported that in the area of Vancouver, the candle fish was collected in large quantities, the oil removed and used as a dressing for many sea foods. Shell fish were eaten in large amounts when available.

Animal fats, organ meats and fatty fish all supply fat-soluble vitamins A and D, which Weston Price recognized as the basis of healthy primitive diets. These nutrients are catalysts to the assimilation of protein and minerals. Without them minerals go to waste and the body cannot be built tall and strong. When tribes have access to an abundance of fat soluble vitamins, the offspring will grow up with “nice round heads,” broad faces and straight teeth.

Certain fatty glands of game animals also provided vitamin C during the long winter season in the North. The Indians of Canada revealed to Dr. Price that the adrenal glands in the moose prevented scurvy. When an animal was killed, the adrenal gland and its fat were cut up and shared with all members of the tribe. The walls of the second stomach were also eaten to prevent “the white man’s disease.”

PLANT FOODS

A variety of plant foods were used throughout the North American continents, notably corn (in the temperate regions) and wild rice (in the Great Lakes region). Dry corn was first soaked in lime water (water in which calcium carbonate or calcium oxide is dissolved), a process called nixtamalizacion that softens the corn for use and releases vitamin B3, which otherwise remains bound in the grain. The resulting dough, called nixtamal or masa, can be prepared in a variety of ways to make porridges and breads. Often these preparations were then fried in bear grease or other fat. Many groups grew beans and enjoyed them as “succatash,” a dish comprised of beans, corn, dog meat and bear fat. As an adjunct to the diet, corn provided variety and important calories. But when the proportion of corn in the diet became too high, as happened in the American Southwest, the health of the people suffered. Skeletal remains of groups subsisting largely on corn reveal widespread tooth decay and bone problems.21

Tubers like the Jerusalem artichoke (the root of a type of sunflower) were cooked slowly for a long time in underground pits until the hard indigestible root was transformed into a highly digestible gelatinous mass. Wild onions were used to flavor meat dishes and, in fact, were an important item of commerce. Nuts like acorns were made into gruel or little cakes after careful preparation to remove tannins. In the Southeast, pecans contributed important fat calories. In the southern areas, cactus was consumed; in northern areas wild potatoes.

Staples like corn and beans were stored in underground pits, ingeniously covered with logs and leaves to prevent wild animals from finding or looting the stores. Birchbark was used to make trays, buckets and containers, including kettles. Water was boiled by putting hot rocks into the containers. Southern Indians used clay pots for the same purpose.

In general, fruits were dried and used to season fat, fish and meat—dried blueberries were used to flavor moose fat, for example. Beverly Hungry Wolf recalls that her grandmother mixed wild mint with fat and dried meat which was then stored in rawhide containers. The mint would keep the bugs out and also prevent the fat from spoiling.

The Indians enjoyed sweet-tasting foods. Maple sugar or pine sugar was used to sweeten meats and fats. In the Southwest, the Indians chewed the sweet heart of the agave plant. In fact, the Spanish noted that where agave grew, the Indians had bad teeth.22

FERMENTED FOODS

Use of sour-tasting fermented foods was widespread. The Cherokee “bread” consisted of nixtamal wrapped in corn leaves and allowed to ferment for two weeks.23 Manzanita berries and other plant foods were also fermented.

The Indians also enjoyed fermented, gamey animal foods. The Coahuiltecans, living in the inland brush country of south Texas set fish aside for eight days “until larvae and other insects had developed in the rotting flesh.24 They were then consumed as an epicure’s delight, along with the rotten fish.” Samuel Hearne describes a fermented dish consumed by the Chippewaya and Cree: “The most remarkable dish among them. . . is blood mixed with the half-digested food which is found in the caribou’s stomach, and boiled up with a sufficient quantity of water to make it of the consistence of pease-pottage. Some fat and scraps of tender flesh are also shred small and boiled with it. To render this dish more palatable, they have a method of mixing the blood with the contents of the stomach in the paunch itself, and hanging it up in the heat and smoke of the fire for several days; which puts the whole mass into a state of fermentation, which gives it such an agreeable acid taste, that were it not for prejudice, it might be eaten by those who have the nicest palates.”25

A number of reports indicate that broth and herbed beverages were preferred to water. The Chippewa boiled water and added leaves or twigs before drinking it.26 Sassafras was a favorite ingredient in teas and medicinal drinks.27 Broth was flavored and thickened with corn silk and dried pumpkin blossom. California Indians added lemonade berries to water to make a pleasantly sour drink.28 Another sour drink was produced from fermented corn porridge.29 In the Southwest, a drink called chichi is made with little balls of corn dough which the women impregnate with saliva by chewing. They are added to water to produce a delicious, sour, fizzy fermented drink.30

GUTS AND GREASE IN A GLASS

Modern food writers who assure us we can enjoy the superb health of the American Indian by eating lowfat foods and canned fruits have done the public a great disservice. The basis of the Indian diet was guts and grease, not waffles and skimmed milk. When the Indians abandoned these traditional foods and began consuming processed store-bought foods, their health deteriorated rapidly. Weston Price vividly described the suffering from tooth decay, tuberculosis, arthritis and other problems that plagued the modernized Indian groups he visited throughout America Canada.

Modern man has lost his taste for the kinds of foods the Indians ate—how many American children will eat raw liver, dried lung or sour porridge? How then can we return to the kind of good health the Indians enjoyed?

Price found only one group of modernized Indians that did not suffer from caries. These were students at the Mohawk Institute near the city of Brantford. “The Institute maintained a fine dairy herd and provided fresh vegetables, whole wheat bread and limited the sugar and white flour.”31 So the formula for good health in the modern age begins with the products of “a fine dairy herd”—whole, raw, unprocessed milk from cows that eat green grass, a highly nutritious substitute for guts and grease and one that every child can enjoy, even native American children who are supposedly lactose intolerant. Add some good fats (butter, tallow and lard), aim for liver or other organ meats once a week (but don’t fret if you can’t achieve this with your own children), make cod liver oil part of the daily routine, eat plenty of meat and seafood, and augment the diet with a variety of plant foods properly prepared, including a few that are fermented. Keep sugar and white flour to a minimum. It’s a simple formula that can turn a nation of hungry little wolves into happy campers.

Meanwhile, be skeptical of government guidelines. The Indians learned not to trust our government and neither should you.

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