January 4, 1929
Ingstad marvels at the all-meat diet of the Indians, citing a lack of scurvy or chronic diseases. "Nowhere have I been able to discover that this excessive meat-eating has developed in the Indian a need for other forms of nourishment. If his meat-supply is adequate, for example, he will never go to the trouble of making a journey merely to procure flour."
The Land of Feast and Famine - The Barren Ground Indians
I have already spoken of the ways in which the edible portions of the carcass are prepared. I have mentioned how the fundamental principle is to seek first the fattest and most nourishing parts, and how the necessary variety of food is achieved by making use of marrow, heart, kidneys, liver, fat, stomach contents, cartilage of the larynx, brain, tongue, tooth-nerves, nose, blood, teats, horns in velvet, unborn calf, et cetera, boiling or roasting the above to no more than a superficial degree. Meat and every other kind of food are prepared and eaten without the addition of salt. The food is washed down with unsweetened tea. As a supplement to fresh food, there are dried meat and fat. The dried meat is often ground up between stones and preserved in pulverized form; when this is mixed with fat, the result is " pemmican," a product of modern Arctic research.
Here, in a nutshell, is the secret of all Indian cuisine. These foods, as developed by a primitive people, not only make it possible for one to endure an exclusive diet of meat throughout eight months of the year, but also keep the Indians in excellent physical condition. During the meat months fresh cases of sickness seldom break out (I have never heard of a case of scurvy), and even the undernourished seem to regain their strength.
Nowhere have I been able to discover that this excessive meat-eating has developed in the Indian a need for other forms of nourishment. If his meat-supply is adequate, for example, he will never go to the trouble of making a journey merely to procure flour; but it is a different matter if he finds himself running low on tea or tobacco! If it so happens that he is invited to partake of a civilized meal, he will eat a few mouthfuls and seem to enjoy the change. But on finishing he gives it no further thought and makes straight for the nearest kettle of steaming fragrant venison.
The Indian people must have adopted an exclusive meat diet a great many years ago, and it may well be that their physical constitution has, to a certain degree, been modified by it. My own experience has been that the food of these Indians is both adequate and satisfying to the white man as well. The year I spent with the Caribou-Eaters, I nourished myself during about eight months of the winter by confining myself to the eating of wild game according to their principles. So long as I had venison enough to supply me with plenty of fat, I found myself in high spirits and noticed not the slightest indication of any kind of illness. On the other hand, whenever I was short of fat, I soon began to run down, could eat no end of meat without feeling satisfied, and became more susceptible to cold. I should like to mention in this place that, unlike most other white trappers, I neither used any salt nor missed it; I ate dried meat, dried fat, and raw marrow whenever I had the opportunity. This was food which I felt gave me ample and lasting strength to work, and on a cold winter's day a piece of bread and butter, smeared with cheese, was not to be compared with it. Naturally, one may have moments of weakness when one's thoughts wander off to a heavily laden dining-table, but these are probably due to nothing more than the remnants of old habit.
It is a custom of the Indians to devour untold quantities of food during a meal, but, on the other hand, it is possible for them to endure hunger and terrific hardships for long periods of time without experiencing dire effects. This the Indian holds in common with the Eskimo dog. In this particular the difference between the Indian and the white man, and between the Eskimo dog and the more civilized breeds, is strongly marked.