chapter  1
14 Pages

Precolonial Foodways

ByCHRISTINA GISH HILL

By the time Europeans reached the shores of the Americas, the Indigenous peoples of the northern continent had developed food systems that efficiently utilized their abundant landscape to provide a varied nutritious diet. The diversity of Indigenous foodways mirrored the diversity of the ecosystems of each people’s homeland. Lush forests east of the Mississippi harbored plentiful game and provided fertile soil for fields of corn, beans, and squash. Peoples who lived along the ocean coasts gathered tidewater resources, like shellfish, seaweed, and sea urchins. They also perfected seafaring vessels that could take them far from land, even to hunt large game – like seals, dolphins, and whales. Moreover peoples living in regions with seemingly scarce resources developed rich food systems. The peoples of the southwest not only harvested the incredible diversity of their desert landscape, they also invented complex systems of irrigation, allowing them to farm with the little water at their disposal. By viewing most non-human entities as cognizant beings, including animals, plants and even stones, and by emphasizing reciprocal relationships with these other beings, Indigenous peoples learned to hunt, gather, fish, and grow with the restraint needed to ensure continued abundance of food sources. These practices present alternatives to Euro-centric hierarchical models of human and non-human relationships, offering possibilities for establishing more sustainable subsistence practices than those most Americans currently practice.