Native Cooking: What Is a Vegetarian?

TheVegan8.com /This image of another variation on sweet potato soup is from TheVegan8.com, which provides 8-ingredient vegan recipes.

What exactly is a vegetarian, and were/are any Native American tribal people practicing that custom?

This could be a daunting task broken down through history. Ancient peoples have practiced this diet for many different reasons. It could be because of location where there is little game, or ethics that do not allow the killing of animals.

Legumes and grains have provided most of the proteins needed, so the hunting aspect was not always necessary for nutritional health benefits. There are opposite situations—like the Inuit who had little or no access to much of anything but animal protein. To read more about Native vegetarianism, check out an article titled “Native Americans and Vegetarianism” published in the Vegetarian Journal by Rita Laws in 1994, it gave the best-case scenario of vegetarianism among her own people, the Choctaw of Mississippi and Oklahoma.

A vegan is the purist of vegetarians and refuses to eat any products from animal origins, even butter, milk, cheese or eggs. Some vegetarians will eat fish and/or poultry, preferably fed organically, but not other animal meat. And, I think it is safe to say they prefer their foods organically grown as well.

People today have so many food allergies and restrictions, it’s a good thing there are many choices. The scientific community used to believe that a complete protein was necessary at each meal. Now, it is a fact that the amino acids from some, actually most, protein remains in our body for a minimum of four hours, and some as long as 48 hours. For more information about that, read Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future by David Wolfe.

They say a vegetarian should select two or more of these three groups: nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes, in a day to stay healthy. Corn and the other two sisters, beans, and squash have been doing their part for eons to keep us healthy, and we honor that.

A lot of Native American cooks and chefs pay attention to the old ways and respect the way that food was prepared in long, slow, labor intensive procedures. Humans ate plants first, which often became soup. This one is really good especially with some homemade bread.

Sweet Potato Soup

3 large sweet potatoes

3 Yukon gold potatoes

2 large tomatoes

1 carrot

1 stalk celery

2 tablespoons olive oil

6-8 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Chop tomatoes, carrot and celery then sauté in the olive oil, add the stock. Chop or slice all potatoes and add to vegetables in stock. Cook all gently for about 30 minutes. Now add the cumin, salt and pepper and spoon into bowls or puree and serve.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.

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