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What Do Native Americans Eat?

Category: People.

The dietary habits of Native Americans differ from tribe to tribe. For instance, Athabascan Indians, who inhabited Alaska, had significantly different kinds of food habits when compared to those of the Brazilian tribes who lived in the Amazon rainforest. Some of the Native American tribes had semi-nomadic habits in the sense that they changed their places frequently, while others settled in some places to do agriculture. These habits also impacted their food habits.

Navajo frybread. © Bonnie Eng (view the recipe).

Different ways to get food

Native Americans procured their food in four different ways including gathering, hunting and fishing, rearing domestic animals and farming. Among these four ways, rearing domestic animals was not that prominent since there were not many animals. Some of the common animals domesticated by Native Americans were ducks, turkeys and dogs. Some tribes ate dog meat, while many others didn’t. Some tribes also reared llamas and guinea pigs for the sake of their meat.

Popular source of food

Most Native American tribes depended on farming, gathering, fishing and hunting to procure their food. Hunting or fishing was the primary means to get fresh meat. Some prominent tribes were big hunters and they pursued in groups to hunt bison or caribous. Groups of hunting tribes drove animals into ambush or pits dug by them. Sometimes, they too set controlled fires or built fences to prevent the escape of animals. In case of hunting deer and rabbits, they set snares or traps. Fishing tribes used their canoes to hunt fish and other marine animals.

Pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, fat, and sometimes dried berries. © Jen Castro, recipe by Jacob Hunter (view the recipe).

Advanced farming techniques

Native American tribes used advanced farming techniques including terracing, irrigation, planting windbreaks and crop rotation. In addition to food crops, they too grew cotton, tobacco, medicinal plants and hemp. Gathering refers to collecting the food available in the wild. This might include just picking some berries from bushes or may involve the use of special tools and training like extracting maple syrup from trees or leaching acorns to get flour.

Prominent foods of Native Americans

The most prominent foods of Native Americans were maize or Indian corn, beans, pumpkins, peppers, sweet potatoes, avocados, papayas, peanuts, chocolate, squash, sunflowers, tomatoes and wild rice. The favorite meats they consumed included geese, ducks, fish, turkeys and other types of birds, shellfish, clams, seals, marine mammals and whales. Native Americans strongly opined that food should not be wasted. Therefore, even if an animal was killed for any reason other than for meat, they would eat it without wasting. They also consumed eggs, honey, sugar, salt, various types of nuts and resins, a variety of berries, wild plums and persimmons.

Diets of other Americans

  1. Americans in general
  2. Hawaiian’s diet

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