There is no single definite answer as to what Native Americans eat, mainly because their diet can vary from one tribe to another. Some tribes in Native America were mostly agricultural. They stay in just one place the whole year and farm the land in the area.
Some tribes were semi-nomadic. They move often from one place to another as they gather and hunt food for their families. As a result, it also affected the specific types of food they consumed.
What do Native Americans eat, then? Do Native Americans eat bacon, too?
While many Native Americans were hunters, they consider certain animals unclean, and they don’t use these animals as food. Examples of these unclean foods included insects, snakes, prairie dogs, and other amphibians and reptiles.
The animals that ate these unclean foods were regarded as unclean as well. Although Native Americans ate pork if there is no other available meat, many of them would not eat bacon or pork for that matter.
How Native Americans Gathered Food
People in ancient societies had four basic methods to search for food. These included raising domesticated animals, fishing and hunting, gathering, and farming.
The Native Americans did all these four methods, although the more common ones were the last three ways. Before the arrival of the Europeans in North America, there were not a lot of domesticated animals in the area. There were only dogs, ducks, and turkeys, with most tribes not feeding on dog meat, although others did. Some tribes in South America also raised guinea pigs and llamas for their meat.
The other three sources of food were much more essential to the life of the Native Americans. Many tribes also used three or two of the techniques to gather food at the same time to add variety to their diet.
Hunting and Fishing
Many American Indian tribes also took part in fishing and hunting to enjoy fresh meat. Some of the Indian tribes in the far north and the Eskimos or Inuit almost completely relied on fishing and hunting for their survival.
Some Native Americans were also mainly hunters of big game. They often migrate to follow the herds of caribou or bison. Two good examples of tribes that are big game hunters are the Sioux and Blackfoot. In other tribes like Creek or Chippewa, the Native American hunters would stalk rabbits, deer, or other game or set traps or snares for them. Meanwhile, Salish and Tlingit are two examples of the Northwest Indian tribes who fished to get most of the meat they need.
Farming was also an essential source of food materials for American Indians. Native agriculture was the most advanced in what is now Mexico, South America’s Andean region, and the southern US. Native Americans from these places used special farming methods such as planting windbreaks, crop rotation, terracing, and irrigation to make their farm better. They also often harvested enough crops that they dried and stored for the winter.
Gathering is the general term used to refer to collecting food growing wild in the environment. It is sometimes a very basic kind of task, like picking blueberries from a bush. Gathering can also be complicated sometimes, requiring special training and tools, like tapping trees to get maple syrup and grinding and leaching acorns to produce edible flour.
The types of wild foods that an Indian tribe gathered, and the tools required for doing it also varied a lot depending on the place where the tribe lived. Native Americans often gathered wild foods in addition to farming, fishing, and hunting.
Typical Foods of Native Americans
Indian corn was the most important food crop of Native Americans, also called maize which comes from the plant’s Taino Indian name. Many American Indian tribes grew and cultivated at least some corn. Even tribes that didn’t grow corn themselves usually traded with their neighbors for it. Other crops that were important for American Indians included avocados, beans, chocolate, papayas, peanuts, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and wild rice.
It doesn’t matter if the tribes were farming or not, the diets of many Native American tribes were very heavy on meat. Their favorite meats included rabbit, deer, elk, buffalo, and caribou; turkeys, geese, ducks, and other birds; salmon and other fish, marine mammals such as seals and even whales; and clams and other shellfish.
However, almost all animals that lived during ancient times in the Americas were often included in the menu, even those that you probably don’t think of as food such as monkeys, snakes, or porcupines. Most Native American tribes also had strong beliefs against food waste. This is why if they killed a certain animal for whatever reason, they would usually try eating it.
Other foods naturally found in the Americas that American Indians often ate included honey, eggs, sugar and maple syrup, salt, a wide variety of roots, greens, and beans, fruit such as blueberries, chokecherries, cranberries, persimmons, raspberries, strawberries, and wild plums, and nuts such as acorns, hickory nuts, cashews, peanuts, and pine nuts.
Typical Meals of Native Americans
Native American cooking was simple. Many of them preferred eating their food very fresh without a lot of spices. It was different in Central America and Mexico where Indians used more spices and less fresh meat in their dishes. These spices included chocolate seasonings, cumin, and hot peppers.
The meat was often grilled on hot stones or roasted over the fire. Fish was usually smoked or baked. Stews and soups were also common in several tribes. Corn was consumed in various ways such as cornbread and tortillas baked in clay ovens, hominy, popcorn, and corn on the cob.
Indians in several tribes also enjoyed maple candy or fruit puddings for desserts. Many Native Americans also loved drinking water with their meals. However, hot chocolate was a famous beverage in Mexico, while some Indians in South and Central America came up with an alcoholic corn drink known as chicha.
No, Native Americans don’t eat bacon, but they consumed meat from other animals that they hunted.