Page:The American Indian.djvu/29

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CHAPTER I


THE FOOD AREAS OF THE NEW WORLD

The most tangible and objective of human traits are those having to do with food. It is obvious that the fundamental necessity for man’s existence is a sufficient quantity of some kind of edible organic substance. Moreover, a retrospect of the world, as we find it today, suggests that one of the eternal problems confronting the several groups of mankind has been the discovery of practical methods for adapting living forms to dietary requirements. For this reason, if for no other, it seems advisable to begin our study of man in the New World with a general discussion of food complexes.

The almost universal tendency among the several groups of mankind is to specialize in some one kind of food which thereby becomes the staple, or main support, to be supplemented by secondary foods when opportunity permits. Even our own very complex culture has not fully overcome this disposition, as shown in our great dependence upon bread and beef. Another characteristic is that this specialization is uniformly distributed over a considerable area. Because of these two conditions our task of classification is far less difficult than if it were otherwise.

Guided by these considerations the New World may be comprehended under eight large food areas, the general boundaries of which are indicated on the map. Thus, beginning with North America, we have in the north a large extent of territory presenting Arctic and sub-Arctic characteristics. This region is the natural range of the caribou, or American reindeer, whose flesh was the main support of the aboriginal populations. On the Pacific slope, centering in the drainage of the Columbia River, we have the salmon area. To the south, in California and a portion of the interior, is the area of wild nuts and seeds. In the heart of the continent is the bison area.