What Did The Navajos Eat?

The Navajo diet is greatly influenced by the history and culture of its people. The Navajo are Native Americans who live in the South West of the U.S, a location which was fundamental in developing their culture.

Both before and throughout the American colonization by the British, the Navajo are a diet consisting of corn, mutton, potatoes, goat meat, grapes, and acorns to name a few.

Steamed Navajo Corn

The modern Navajo diet retains a lot of these foods, but has also become integrated with American cuisine. The Navajo are a large and impoverished population, especially because they live in areas with a limited supply of food. 

What Did The Navajos Eat In The Past?

The Navajo existed way back in the 16th century when they mainly ate maize like the majority of Native American tribes. The other components of the Navajo diet included foods such as pumpkins, elk, rabbits, mutton, acorns, and yucca.

Wild plants were gathered as food in the early years of the Navajo nation, and these wild plants included wild berries such as raspberries, sumac, rose, chokecherries, and currants, wild fruit such as yucca, grapes, and prickly pears, as well as greens from beeweed, pigweed, mountain grass, wild onions and potatoes, and hedge mustard.

Groups of women used to head into the mountains annually to collect nuts and acorns for the Navajo to eat. Wild potatoes were commonly grown in large quantities throughout Navajo areas, and lots of travelers used to comment on the huge fields of relentless wild potatoes they could see stretching for miles.

Because wild potatoes taste so bad, the Navajo used to use clay to season it. Yucca was another important staple of Navajo cuisine. It was used as a relish to add taste to food.

The Navajo would dry it, bake it, ground it, roast it, and finally dry it again before it was made into cakes and stored. The cakes would then be mixed with water before serving to create a syrup to further enhance the flavor. 

The Native American women were normally the ones to cook, and they used clay ovens with a wood fire inside of them. Navajo women also used cooking utensils such as ladles, kettles, and tongs.

Fry bread is a significant Navajo food because during the 19th century they were made to walk from their homes in Arizona to New Mexico by the U.S government. A large number of Navajo people died during this time.

Because the food on offer in New Mexico was not very similar to the Navajo diet, they were provided with flour, water, salt, lard, sugar, baking powder, and powdered milk to cook with.

Using these ingredients, the Navajo cooks invented fry bread, which became a symbol of their perseverance and an important facet of their history and culture. 

The Navajo tell lots of stories about their initial adjustment to the white people of New Mexico’s odd cuisine. Many Navajo members had never heard of coffee before. They made some amusing errors with food in the beginning, with some attempting to fry the coffee beans or make porridge out of them.

Navajo people tend to dislike bacon and pork even today, and they suggest that this is due to the amount of Navajo people that fell ill during their adjustment to living in New Mexico as a result of badly cooked pork. 

Contemporary Navajo Cuisine 

Navajo Frybread

When the Navajo left Arizona, they became more involved with American lifestyles. In modern times, the Navajo follow a vast majority of the American norms and values. Their cuisine, therefore, became quite Americanized.

Now, Navajo people tend to eat diets with a lot more processed foods these days due to this shift. However, a few restaurants across the U.S have adopted Native American cuisine and serve Navajo specialties such as fry bread to honor their history and culture. 

A large number of Native American communities, including the Navajo people, are in serious poverty. Unemployment levels are greatly above the national average, and around three quarters of Navajo people report food insecurity.

However, Navajo people are much more likely than the average white American to become overweight or obese, and suffer for diabetes. This is because the areas where the Navajo nation resides, often referred to as “food deserts” sell low-quality, processed junk foods.

Some examples of the food eaten by Navajo people in modern times include processed foods, white flour, sweets, and soda. However, some Navajo people have attempted to stick to their routes and eat a healthier, less processed diet based on the foods that their ancestors consumed.

Navajo Taco

Final Thoughts

The history of the Navajo diet is one of innovation and perseverance through difficult times.

Navajo foods are a nod to their vast culture, and despite the Americanization of Navajo cuisine, many Navajo members have opted to try and maintain their ancestors’ diets, and some restaurants in the U.S provide authentic Native American cuisine. Throughout history, no matter what, the Navajo people strived to keep their tribe fed and healthy.

Even though the cuisine on offer back in the 16th-century Navajo territory was far more simplistic and more difficult to provide, it was probably a lot healthier than the options that the impoverished Navajo communities have to choose from today.