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Samuel Hearne on Insect-eating among Canadian Indians

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  • Samuel Hearne on Insect-eating among Canadian Indians

    I like to read historical material and ethnographic accounts for many reasons, but one is that there's often some interesting information on people's diets in them.

    I'm currently reading Samuel Hearne, which I'd warmly recommend to anyone for the fascinating glimpses into the past it delivers.

    So far as food goes, there are many interesting insights. In one amusing passage Hearne remonstrates with the Indians for selecting choice pieces of animal carcasses - fatty cuts, like the tongue - and abandoning the rest. He, with a English eye, sees this as wasteful. The Indians, who lack any notion of waste - or, indeed, living among the plenty of North America, even of resources being finite - are just bemused by him. (Interestingly, he also mentions that they killed wantonly: they were so used to habitual killing for food that they'd simply do things like destroy birds' nests and the fledglings in them not to eat them but for no particular reason. Hearne was distressed by this.)

    Is it necessary to mention that people who go for the most calorific and fat-soluble vitamin laden portions of carcasses, as the Indians Hearne travelled with (Chippewa, I think) are, in fact, acting sensibly?

    Not here, I suppose, but the message isn't heard at large.

    Then there's the insects. Here's the passage:

    ... if they [warbles] are well-boiled, they are far from disagreeable. The Indians, however, never could persuade me to eat the warbles, of which some of them are remarkably fond, particularly the children. They are always eaten raw and alive, out of the skin [of deer]; and are said, by those who like them, to be as fine as gooseberries. But the very idea of eating such things, exclusive of their appearance, (many of them being as large as the first joint of the little finger,) was quite sufficient to give me an unalterable disgust to such a repast; and when I acknowledge that the warbles out of the deers backs, and the domestic lice, were the only two things I ever saw my companions eat, of which I could not, or did not, partake, I trust I shall not be reckoned as delicate in my appetite.

    Of course, he was being "delicate in [his] appetite" but just failed to see it.

  • #2

    Interesting! Did you figure out what a warble is?

    I&#39;ve always suspected that Indians were not the tree huggers that we like to think they are. I know that before the horses, they would set fire to the prairie to get the buffalo to run off cliffs. They could probably only use a few relative to the many killed and injured.

    But they are right? If resources are infinite, why care? No different than gas guzzlers way back. We thought petroleum infinite.