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Impearls: HIC 4.05: Food

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Food   by A. L. Kroeber

The Yurok and their neighbors ate very largely of the acorn, the staple food of most Californians; but fish, that is, salmon, constituted a greater proportion of their food than was usual elsewhere.  Small game is sufficiently scarce in their territory to make the taking of salmon much more profitable, ordinarily.  Deer were abundant and their flesh esteemed, but seem hardly to have formed part of the daily food supply.  Bulbs were dug in early summer; seeds were beaten off the open prairies on the ridges.  Some varieties of the latter were eaten crushed and parched but uncooked, and were much relished for their flavor.  Salt was furnished by a seaweed, Porphyra perforata, which was dried in round blackish cakes.  The people on the coast secured quantities of the large ocean mussel, whose shells make up a large part of the soil of their villages.  The stranding of a whale was always a great occasion, sometimes productive of quarrels.  The Yurok prized its flesh above all other food, and carried dried slabs of the meat inland, but never attempted to hunt the animal.  Surf fish were the principal species taken along the ocean; there is practically no record of fishermen going out in boats.  The myths speak of canoe excursions only for mussels or sea lions.  The food supply was unusually ample along both coast and river, and the Yurok ordinarily did not have to condescend to the grasshoppers, angle-worms, and yellow-jacket larvæ whose nourishing qualities other tribes of the State exploited.  In time of stress, of course, they fell back on almost anything.  The large yellow slug of California, which in the damp northwest grows to enormous size, would then be used.  Famines are scarcely alluded to in the myths, but must have occurred, as among every people primarily dependent on one seasonal or migratory animal.  The average Californian clearly passed most of his life on a much closer food margin than the Yurok, but the minuteness and variety of his diet seem usually to have saved him from dire extremity.

All reptiles and dogs were considered extremely poisonous by the Yurok.

The old custom was to eat only two meals a day and theory made these sparing.  Only a poor fellow without control would glut himself, and such a man would always be thriftless.  Most men at least attempted to do their day's labor, or much of it, before breakfast, which came late.  Some old men still profess to be unable to work properly after they have eaten.  The evening meal came toward sunset.



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