What Did the Chumash Eat?

by Sophia Cross

The Chumash Indians inhabited the southern California coast for thousands of years prior to European settlement. First the Spanish conquistadors and then American settlers nearly wiped them out; today, the Chumash culture is not recognized by the American government. One band, the Santa Ynez Samala tribe, is the only remaining remnant of a once thriving culture. The diet of the Chumash Indians was directly related to where they lived and, for the most part, they depended on the bounty of the sea for their primary dietary needs.

Food from the Sea

The Chumash were a sedentary people, but they did not cultivate the land. Instead, they reaped the bounty of the sea. Their main diet consisted of fish, and shellfish such as mussels, abalone and clams. They also ate sea mammals like seals and otters. They also used seaweed in their diet, often using it as a side to their fish and shellfish dishes. If a whale beached itself near a settlement, it was cause for celebration and a feast. The Chumash roasted the fish over open fires and made soups with the shellfish they gathered from the sea.

River and Land Animals

The Chumash were skilled hunters and their diet reflected this. They hunted deer, bear and quail, and from these animals they made clothing, instruments and hunting tools. Along the rivers they hunted water fowl such as ducks, and also consumed fresh water fish. These meats were also roasted over open fires prior to consumption.

Acorns

The acorn was a major staple of the Chumash Indian diet. Although bitter, they used a time-consuming method to make this food staple edible. They ground the dried acorns into a powder, put the powder into a basket and filtered the powder with water to remove the bitter tannic acids. When the acorn powder was filtered sufficiently, the preparer transferred the powder to a watertight basket, mixed in water and cooked it with heated stones. After it was fully prepared, the Chumash ate this acorn soup with every meal.

Other Vegetation

The Chumash used the abundant vegetation in their area to supplement their diet. They used bay leaves to flavor their food and used willow bark as a medicine for headaches. They also used a plant commonly referred to as miners' lettuce, or winter purslane, as a laxative.

About the Author

Based in Dallas, Sophia Cross has been a writer for more than 16 years. She began her career with a local newspaper and has also worked as a realtor and social worker. Cross holds a Bachelor of Arts in history.