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Native American Food

Anthropology 85A

Professor Tanis Thorne

By Yu Ong & Ryan Yabut


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Fry Bread as a Project

We chose to do a project on fry bread because we thought fry bread to be interesting as it became part of Pan-Indian culture and its huge role in ceremonies and activities in all Native American cultures in North America. However, what made it more interesting to research is how it became part of all these cultures when it was not originally a traditional cultural delicacy of any Indian tribes in North America until the 19th century. Thus, categorizing it as a recent addition to any Indian culture. It’s progression into being part of Pan-Indian culture shows how important it is as it is adopted by all Native American culture as a “traditional” food.


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The History of Fry Bread

  • Fry bread is considered to be a “traditional food”, however it evolved in the mid-19th century. It all began with an American scout called Kit Carson (on the right) and his troops, who drove the Navajo people from their lands by destroying their means of survival. They killed sheep, goats, and horses; poisoned wells; burned orchards and crops; and destroyed shelters.

  • They then rounded up thousands of starving Navajo and sent them on the "Long Walk" to Fort Sumner at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.


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  • The “Long Walk of the Navajo,” also called the “Long Walk to Bosque Redondo,” was an Indian removal effort of the United States government in 1863 and 1864.

  • At least 200 died along the 300-mile trek, and the reservation itself was little more than a prison camp. Between 8,000 and 9,000 people were settled on a 40 square mile area, with the peak population being 9,022 in spring 1865.

  • The Navajos were imprisoned at Fort Sumnerfor four years. While the Navajos were at Fort Sumner, they were only given white flour and lard.

  • With the white flour and lard, the Navajo women at Fort Sumner had to use poor-quality rations (provided by the United States government) to make their meals. Here, the Navajo women combined everything and fried it on a hot pan with lard.


  • Fry bread as a pan indian food l.jpg
    Fry Bread as a Pan-Indian Food Walk to Bosque Redondo,” was an Indian removal effort of the United States government in 1863 and 1864.

    • Fry Bread is an all-purpose flat bread that is considered to be a staple of Indian cuisine (originally a staple of Navajo cuisine).

    • Fry bread is an integral menu item at tribal and family gatherings and a good fry bread maker is honored in Native American communities.

    • Fry Bread has become an Pan Native American food because it has been adopted in all Native American cultures.

    • The dough is a variation of that used for flour tortillas, consisting of wheat flour, shortening, salt, and water, leavened with baking powder or yeast. Navajo Fry Bread is originally a tradition of Arizona and New Mexico, and fry bread with honey butter is a specialty in New Mexico (which all have been adopted by other tribes).


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    Different forms of Fry Bread Walk to Bosque Redondo,” was an Indian removal effort of the United States government in 1863 and 1864.

    • The different ways fry bread are used today are:

      • The Indian Taco (formerly called the Navajo Taco), which is one of the most famous kinds of fry bread. (As seen on the top right)

        • The Indian Taco is a fry bread covered with ground beef, pinto beans, tomatoes, and lettuce.

      • Fry bread covered with either honey or powder sugar to become widely known as a sweet treat. (As seen on the bottom right)

      • The Indian Burger is two pieces o f fry bread encasing a large beef patty covered with various toppings and sauces.

      • The Indian Hot Dog is a fry bread wrapped around a long piece of sausage covered with various sauces and/or toppings.


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    Is lard still used today? Walk to Bosque Redondo,” was an Indian removal effort of the United States government in 1863 and 1864.

    • The answer is “No.” Different types of oil are used today to make fry Bread.

      • One of the reasons why fry bread is no longer fried in lard is because of the health risks of using lard as it contains high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.

      • The oils used today to make fry bread vary from each tribe as some use vegetable, canola, or olive oil.


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    How to make Fry Bread Walk to Bosque Redondo,” was an Indian removal effort of the United States government in 1863 and 1864.

    • Ingredients:

      • 2 cups all-purpose flour2 teaspoons baking powder1/4 cup instant nonfat dry milk1/4 teaspoon saltWarm waterVegetable OilHoney or powdered sugar                                         

    • In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, dry milk, and salt. Slowly add enough warm water to form a workable dough (start by adding 1 cups of water, then more if needed); knead until smooth but still slightly sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. After resting, divide dough into 4 equal pieces.


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    • On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a small ball and pat into a flat circle about 8 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick (it will puff up a lot); cut a steam vent in the middle of each circle of dough.

    • In a large, deep frying pan, heat 1 to 2 inches of vegetable oil (enough oil to flat the dough) to 357 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry the dough pieces, one at a time and turning once, for 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown (the bread will puff slightly and become crisp and brown). Remove from hot oil and drain on paper towels. Keep warm until ready to serve.

    • This recipe is the original Navajo recipe for fry bread and makes about 4 servings of Navajo fry breads.

    • Other recipes of fry bread can be found online as each tribe throughout North America has their own version of fry bread.

      • Each recipe differs in the ingredients used and method of cooking but all are based on this original recipe.



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    How to make an Indian Taco cultural gathering.

    • Ingredients:

      • 1 pound lean ground meat (beef, lamb, venison or pork)1 cup diced onion4 cooked Navajo Fry Breads (see recipe above)1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded3 tomatoes, diced2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese1 (3-ounce) can diced green chilies, drainedSour cream (optional)

    • In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, brown ground meat and onions until cooked; remove from heat.


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    Cultural Significance of Fry Bread cultural gathering.

    • Ever since its creation by the Navajo in the 19th century, the fry bread has been adopted by numerous tribes around North America.

    • Fry bread soon became a Pan-Indian tradition as it is now imbedded deeply into the cultures of various tribes in the United States.

      • It has been so imbedded into various American Indian cultures as many Indians can’t imagine going without it as many have built their identity around the popular concoction.

      • Fry bread is now used in almost every Indian ceremony and cultural gathering.

        • For example, the Hopi Indians in northeastern Arizona will have fry bread along with Hopi cuisine during their ceremonies.


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  • One of the largest cultural gatherings that fry bread can be found are in Native American Powwows.

    • A Powwow is a gathering of Native Americans. It derives from the Narragansett word “powwow,” meaning shaman.

    • Typically, a powwow consists of both Native Americans and non-Native Americans meeting in one specific area to dance, sing, socialize, and have a good time.

    • Powwows vary in length as some may take 5 to 6 hours or even a couple of days.


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    Powwows together.

    • Every weekend from April through October, thousands of Native Americans throughout the United States and Canada head to powwows.

    • Powwows in the late 1800's and early 1900's, Indians were not allowed to have dances. Government officials  thought the dances were organized to resist federal forces. They did not realize that the dances were held only to honor their elders and warriors, give gifts and recognition to those deserving. It was also to sing honor songs, ask questions to the elders, teach by example, dance the sacred circle, and be healed.

    • In the 1960's, officials finally realized that these dances and traditions were not dangerous, as they were only important to Native Americans. Native Americans today are developing deep pride in their culture and traditions.


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    Fry Bread as a Symbol together.

    • In today’s Native American society, fry bread has become a symbol that represents the overall Pan-Indian culture and intertribal unity.

      • It is a symbol that many American Indians are proud to show as some have created phrases like “Fry Bread Power,” which are now printed onto shirts, bumper stickers, and other various things.

        • Some have even dedicated websites on fry bread and its symbolism to Pan-Indian culture and intertribal unity.


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    Is Fry Bread an Icon or a Hazard? together.

    • For the past several years, there has been an ongoing debate whether fry bread should be seen as an icon or a hazard.

      • With fry bread deeply imbedded into various Native American cultures around North America, it has gained a status as an icon to represent the Pan-Indian culture and intertribal unity.

        • Taking this away, many American Indians will lose a sense of the culture they all share and created as well as the unity they each have.

      • However, fry bread has also gained a reputation to be one of the primary causes of obesity and type II diabetes in the Indian population.

        • Although, not every case of obesity and diabetes among Indians can be blamed solely on fry bread as it takes other factors, such as a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

        • According to a nutritional analysis by the United States Department of Agriculture, one paper-plate size (standard size) fry bread contains 700 calories and 27 grams of fat with little to no vitamins and minerals.


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    • Many believe the diabetes rate began to skyrocket when Indians stopped living off the land and began using government rations.

      • In using government rations, Indians created fry bread as it is both easy and cheap to make.

        • This made it convenient for many Native Americans as more than half of the total Native American population is considered to be below poverty lines.

    • One of the people who believes fry bread to be hazardous is Steven Deo, an artist and a Creek/Euchee Indian.

      • Deo created a series of public service announcement posters called “Art for Indians” (his first one on the right), which debuted on his art show in New Mexico.


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    • Deo’s second poster depicts lard and other commodity foods. An equal sign follows the image, so that the message essentially reads: “Commodities=public assistance= welfare.”

    • His series is specifically aimed at the Native American community to create a cognitive dialogue about themselves and their socio-economic class.

      • Here, Deo is trying to argue that keeping fry bread as a symbol to represent Pan-Indian unity and culture, it is also something that prevents American Indians from changing their socio-economic status in the United States as they remain persistent on their reliance of this convenient but health hazardous product.

    • There have been numerous reports done on the Native American population about their dietary quality and dependence on this highly popular commodity food.

      • These reports have shown that if the intake of fry bread does not decrease in the Indian population, the rate of obesity and type II diabetes will continue to grow.

        • The reports also suggests that the intake of fry bread is beginning to have a detrimental effect on Native American children as more are becoming obese at a young age and developing children’s type II diabetes.


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    • Many have even considered/advised to completely eliminate fry bread from American Indian culture.

      • This, of course, cause an uproar throughout the Native American population as fry bread has become an important aspect of various tribal cultures as well as the Pan Indian culture they have created.

    • Others have suggested in trying to make fry bread as healthy as possible.

      • Here, they argue that fry bread can still be part of their culture as well as their symbol as they modify the ingredients and methods of making fry bread.

      • An example of a healthier recipe of fry bread is:

        • Ingredients:

          • 1 cup white flour

            ½ cup whole wheat flour

            1 tablespoon sugar

            ½ teaspoon baking powder

            ¼ teaspoon baking powder

            ½ cup honey

            vegetable oil

        • Mix dry ingredients. Add water to dry ingredients, mix well. Knead dough on a floured board till it becomes elastic. Let Dough rest 10 minutes, covered.

        • Roll out dough till it is ½ inch thick. Cut into squares or circles. Deep-fry at 370 degrees Fahrenheit till golden brown; drain on paper towels. Drizzle with honey and serve.

        • This recipe makes 4 servings.


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    • Despite the healthier version of fry bread, many have argued that that isn’t enough to stop the increasing rate of obesity and type II diabetes in Native Americans.

      • Instead, American Indians are being persuaded to save fry bread for highly special occasions only, thus limiting its consumption.

    • The fry bread debate still continues today with no definite solution.


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    What’s Your Opinion? that that isn’t enough to stop the increasing rate of obesity and type II diabetes in Native Americans.

    Should fry bread be considered hazardous and be eliminated away from the culture or should it remain as an icon of Pan Indian unity and culture, while obesity and type II diabetes rates continue to increase?


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    Our Opinions that that isn’t enough to stop the increasing rate of obesity and type II diabetes in Native Americans.

    We believe fry bread should remain as a symbol for Pan Indian unity and culture because it is a type of food that is unique to Native American culture, which is mostly found on traditional gatherings such as a Powwow. However, Fry bread may cause risks of diabetes and obesity only if it is consumed in excessive amounts as it should not be something to be part of one’s daily diet. Instead, fry bread should be eaten for special occasions only, such as Powwows and ceremonies. Also, fry bread recipes should be modified to add some nutritional values, such as using whole grain flour than white flour. This way fry bread remains to be part of the overall culture that has unified the Native American population together as a whole, while enjoying the worthwhile experience of such a cultural delicacy. Thus, this is what we believe as everyone should be able to experience an aspect of American Indian culture before it is decided to be removed completely.


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    Bibliography that that isn’t enough to stop the increasing rate of obesity and type II diabetes in Native Americans.

    • Dietary Quality of Native American Women in Rural California:

      • Ikeda, J.P., S. Murphy, R.A. Mitchell, N. Flynn, I.J. Mason, A. Lizer, and C. Lamp. "Dietary quality of Native American women in rural California." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 98.n7 (July 1998): 812(3). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. UC Irvine (CDL). 5 June 2006 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A20944905&source=gale&userGroupName=ucirvine&version=1.0>.

    • Feast or famine? Supplemental food programs and their impacts on two American Indian communities in California:

      • Dillinger, Teresa L., Stephen C. Jett, Martha J. Macri, and Louis E. Grivetti. "Feast or famine? Supplemental food programs and their impacts on two American Indian communities in California.(Statistical Data Included)." International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 50.3 (May 1999): 173. Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. UC Irvine (CDL). 5 June 2006 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A55041158&source=gale&srcprod=EAIM&userGroupName=ucirvine&version=1.0>.

    • Fat Content of South Florida Indian Frybread: Health Implications for a Pervasive Native-American Food:

      • SMITH, JANELL, and DENNIS WIEDMAN. "Fat content of south Florida Indian frybread: Health implications for a pervasive Native-American food." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 101.5 (May 2001): 582. Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. UC Irvine (CDL). 5 June 2006 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A75141099&source=gale&srcprod=EAIM&userGroupName=ucirvine&version=1.0>.


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    Bibliography (Cont.) that that isn’t enough to stop the increasing rate of obesity and type II diabetes in Native Americans.

    • The Diet Quality of American Indians: Evidence From the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals:

      • Basiotis, P. Peter, Mark Lino, and Rajen Anand. "The Diet Quality of American Indians: Evidence From the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals." Family Economics and Nutrition Review 12.2 (Fall 1999): 44. Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. UC Irvine (CDL). 6 June 2006 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A61182350&source=gale&srcprod=EAIM&userGroupName=ucirvine&version=1.0>.

    • My New Year’s Resolution: No More Fat “Indian” Food:

      • <http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096410209>

    • Picture of fry bread with honey:

      • <http://www.hgtv.com/hgtv/ah_recipes_ethnic/article/0,1801,HGTV_3178_2032993,00.html>

    • Picture of Indian Taco or Navajo Taco:

      • <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fry_bread>

    • Icon or Hazard? The Great Debate Over Fry Bread:

      • <http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9022063/>

    • History of Navajo Fry Bread

      • <http://whatscookingamerica.net/Glossary/N.htm>

    • The Epidemic of Obesity in American Indian Communities and the Need for ChildhoodObesity-Prevention Programs

      • <http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/reprint/69/4/747S>

    • Second Picture of Fry Bread:

      • <http://www.cookingpost.com/products/Fry.jpg>


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    Bibliography (Cont.) that that isn’t enough to stop the increasing rate of obesity and type II diabetes in Native Americans.

    • Picture of “Eagle Spirit”:

      • <http://www.eaglespiritstore.com/candypress.ProdImages/CheFryB.JPG>

    • Picture of Fry Bread Stand:

      • <http://www/kenrockwell.com/200210/images/1595FryB.jpg>

    • Picture of “Global Gourmet”:

      • < http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/kgk/2004/1104/fry.jpg>


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