My father’s side of the family is Native American, prior to being rounded up in 1853 and forced to live on the reservation, they lived off the land and ate a true Paleo diet. Once on the rez, they were only given lard and flour to eat. Although fry bread and tortillas are now a part of our culture, there is a plague of diabetes, because many Natives are unable to metabolize carbs.
They lived on a diet of mostly animals. They had few carbs, just acorns, and buckwheat. But you say acorns are poisonous due to the high levels of tannin. That is correct and when an elder proudly serves you a bowl of swee-wish, (rhythms with “we wish,” like we wish we did not want to eat this bowl of poisonous acorn pudding), you followed the example set by your father and uncles and ate it enthusiastically while the elder watched on, beaming with pride.
The first time my husband ate swee-wish he spat it out and said it tasted horrible. My father looked at him solemnly and asked, “What is wrong with you? Were you raised in a barn?”
While I chastised him, my father and uncles had a hard time keeping their solemn faces. I said, “Darling, Auntie worked all day making this great dish. It was a gift from the creator given to our ancestors. Are you sure you do not want to try it again and see if you like it?” One of my cousins whispered in his ear, “You can cover the taste with cheese and salsa.” In addition to poisonous acorns we had buckwheat, I can only imagine how bad it is because no one ever eats that stuff.”
We had berries. You had to fight your way through the thorns and be careful of the rattlesnakes and spiders that like to hang out in the berries patches, but we had some tasty blackberries. We had a fruit called “La Tuna” also known as prickly pears, the “thorns” have a soft velvety texture, so a newcomer will pick one up not realizing the danger. Once those little bristles get into your skin or tongue they are hard to get out, they can stay there for weeks and they burn like eating jalapenos peppers. The fruit inside is about half seeds.
Once the food was gathered or hunted down and killed, it still had to be prepared. The acorns had to be pounded to meal and the poisons rinsed out. This was always done on high ground, so the women could watch for dangers. That meant the water for rinsing the poisons had to be hauled to high ground. Wood for cooking also had to be hauled to high ground. In addition to all the food prep, the women had the task of raising kids, making clothes, shooing away animals.
In ancient times there was a wider variety of proteins in North America. There used to be camels, elephants, tigers, and ancient horses. If you ever go to the La Brea Tar Pitts in Los Angels you can see skeletal remains of the Woolly Mammoth, saber tooth tigers, ancient camels and ancient horses that used to wonder what is now Wilshire Boulevard. They must have tasted good because they were hunted to extinction. And there was cannibalism, which was common in many places. Hmmm.
Beef, however, is not a true paleo food. The cow was cultivated by people in the mid-East not that many millennia ago, and only after Columbus brought cows to the New World did they grew into the giant mountains of moving hamburger which we now call cattle.
So if you live in Southern California your true paleo diet is meat, berries, and poisonous acorn paste pudding. No one is going to get fat on that. I was told by my family’s storyteller/historian that prior to the invasion our people were blessed with good lives because of the good weather and abundance of food.
I love the memories of my childhood on the Rez. It was primitive with only a few modern conveniences. We had no electricity or running water. We hauled water and had a wood burning stove and hot water heater. We did not have TVs, radios, or phones. In the summer we sleep outside. My father and uncles hunted. Some of the elders had planted fruit trees. I picked fresh fruit which I gathered berries.
My Uncle was rich he owned two trucks, one for him and one for the rest of the family. Sometimes we drove to the food store which was an hour’s drive away and sometimes we killed something. Sometimes my grandma would try to force me to eat what the Meals on Wheels people brought her.
I love “paleo food” and especially “paleo cupcakes” but don’t kid yourself, the original people even those who lived only a couple hundred years ago had very little variety of food. A king of the olden days might be surprised how well we eat. We are so blessed with the food available to us. We live in a golden age at least as far as food is concerned.
The Paleo Diet is fun and will probably lead to better health but back in the day of the real Paleo diet, just having food, any food was a treat.