The vast lands of the Navajo Nation have always provided food for the people of the tribe, whether it was from foraging, hunting or farming the lands. The Navajo have farmed their lands for hundreds of years, growing maize, squash, beans and many fruits, including peaches and watermelons. Many of these same foods are grown today as food for the tribe. Corn is one of the most important products as it is used in ceremonies and for healing purposes, as well as a source of food.
Traditional Navajo Foods
Prior to the invention of refrigeration and before processed foods began making their way to the West, the Navajo people also raised livestock and lived off the land along with growing crops. The Díne, which is the name of the tribe in the Navajo language, raised goats and sheep to provide the tribe with food, milk and wool that could be spun into blankets and clothing. Hunting also supplied the tribe with much of their food as well.
The Navajo men hunted game for the tribe, especially deer, mountain goats, rabbits and prairie dogs. When the weather was bad and the food scarce, they also slaughtered and ate ponies. The women of the tribe foraged for wild berries, wild seeds, yucca blades from the cactus and herbs. The herbs were not only used for cooking, but they had medicinal value as well.
Modern Navajo Diet
Processed foods, white flour and soda made their way to the Navajo via trading posts in the late 19th and early 20th century. This changed the people’s diet, although many of the Navajo have tried to stick to the old ways and eat the healthier foods they raise or find on their lands. The processed food, especially the white flour, is considered white man’s food.
Many modern Navajo can remember foraging on the land with the parents or grandparents and picking wild potatoes, wild yucca or pinon nuts from the millions of acres of pinon pine trees that grow on the land. Not only are the nuts eaten whole and used in recipes, but also they can be ground with parched corn to create a nut butter that is similar to peanut butter.
While it is no longer necessary to forage for food on the land, many Navajo encourage their people to turn back to the old ways and forage for wild foods in order to have a healthier diet.