The Arctic often evokes images of cold, snow-covered tundras — and that isn’t far off. After all, this region of the Earth surrounding the North Pole and above the Arctic Circle is known for being unique in its low temperatures, resilient animal life, and minimal plant growth. The Arctic Ocean covers much of this region, with portions of Canada, Russia, Alaska, Greenland, and other northern lands included.
But with such low temperatures and heavy snowfall, it can be difficult to imagine how people have sustained themselves in the Arctic.
The indigenous people of the Arctic include the Inuit, Yu’pik, and other tribes. They can be traced back 20,000 years, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center. A different climate does call for a different diet than what Westerners are used to, but in many ways our food choices are quite similar. Read on to see the unique and interesting food that people in the Arctic enjoy eating on the daily.
A Meat Lover’s Paradise
Meat is a popular choice because of a lack of other edible ingredients.
Because plants are scarce in the Arctic due to factors like lack of sunlight and low temperatures, many people living in that region of the world rely on meat for a bulk of their diet. In the 1920s, popular Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Steffanson adopted the mostly-meat diet of the native people in the Arctic after becoming familiar with their different cultures and ways of life.
As a result, we have a great source to reference when it comes to the Arctic diet.
And fortunately, Steffanson learned a lot about the their diet during his time there.
“…[Steffanson] wanted to prove the viability of the Inuit’s meat-heavy diet. In the Arctic, people mainly ate fish and meat from seals, whale, caribou, and waterfowl, while brief summers offered limited vegetation, such as cloudberries and fireweed,” according to Atlas Obscura. Initially, the low-carb diet of those living in the Arctic was thought by western doctors to be “a terrible way to eat.”
But contrary to popular belief, this keto-esque diet might actually be balanced and healthy.
This goes to show how one’s diet can greatly affect one’s overall health.
“This lies at the heart of a paradox — the Inuit paradox, if you will. In the Nunavik villages in northern Quebec, adults over 40 get almost half their calories from native foods… and they don’t die of heart attacks at nearly the same rates as other Canadians or Americans,” says Discover Magazine, when discussing the traditional Inuit diet.
In other words, we can learn a lot from those living in the Arctic.
The meat that those living in the Arctic eat might not be what Westerners are used to, though.
Considering that many hunt for food in the Arctic, fishing and spearing to obtain food is very common. Marine animals like seals and walruses were (and still are) eaten, as well as reindeer, caribou, ducks, and geese. Seals in particular offer multiple uses to native people in the Arctic.
Oil from the fat of seals can be used as a cooking oil or as a food dip.
According to the BBC, they dip various meats in this oil to make it “more palatable.” And if you find yourself at a dinner table in the Arctic, you might notice that a lot of people there like to boil most of their meat, whether it be seal, walrus, or another local animal.
Today, it’s not at all impossible to find food and drinks that we enjoy in the Arctic as well.
The inhabitants of the Arctic have incorporated “Western food” into their diets, according to National Geographic. Imported food, processed food, and cold beer can be bought from local stores. This just goes to show how important technological innovations can be when it comes to our lifestyles.
Plenty Of Fish
What they eat has a generally positive effect on their health.
Because much of the Arctic is composed of countries and islands surrounded by shivering cold waters, the indigenous people of the Arctic also use fish as a source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients. And according to Healthline, omega-3s can have many benefits, which includes improving our mood, fighting inflammation, and keeping us healthy overall.
The many breeds of fish in the Arctic Ocean include mackerel, salmon, char, cod, and more.
Dried fish is enjoyed in the Arctic, along with smoked and frozen fish.
Frozen fish was often sliced thin and eaten. Inuit hunters and gatherers have used spears to hunt salmon as early as the 1900s, and it’s proven to be a good food source as well as one that’s easily preserved. Fishing is also seen as a community event, with many families going out together to hunt for Arctic fish in the frozen and snow-capped waters.
Inuit people have also traditionally used their hands and fishing weirs (AKA dams) to hunt fish.
Though, hunting methods change as the seasons also change.
During the harsh winters, they bore holes into the thick layers of ice in order to spear fish for food, similar to the practice of ice fishing. Handmade nets can be placed between the holes created in frozen water to grab fish, proving that the people of the Arctic are not only resourceful, but incredibly creative with their hunting methods.
As hunting methods have changed, though, so have their food sources.
Commercial fishing will soon be banned in a large portion of the Arctic, according to The Guardian.
This is in part due to warmer climates causing the melting ice of the Arctic to make way for exploration that wasn’t previously possible — while also greatly affect the environment and surrounding wildlife. Fortunately, an area that’s “about the size of the Mediterranean” will be safeguarded for at least the next 16 years to combat this.
Plant And Herb Gathering
Although most people who live in the Arctic have a diet that’s heavy on meat and vegetables, herbs are also incorporated into many different meals there.
Plant growth is scarce in this part of the world, compared to other areas with higher temperatures and more direct sunlight. This is perhaps why the bulk of the diet of those living in the Arctic consists of fish and meat. The edible vegetables that can be found in the Arctic are sometimes mixed with this meat and blood, and then boiled into a soup.
Some vegetables and plants enjoyed there are dandelion, rhubarb, Eskimo potatoes, and roseroot, according to a 1953 report on the edible plants of the arctic.
Various forms of berries like mountain cranberries and bearberries are also grown in the Arctic area. Plants and vegetables like these can be used as ingredients for a raw salad, sauerkraut, and even different teas. An Inuit dessert called akutuq is also popular and involves mixing berries with whipped fat to create a frozen treat similar to ice cream.
Clearly, a lot can be done with fruits and veggies to create a balanced, but still delicious, diet.
History and passing on information is also a huge part of the Arctic way of life.
The native people of the Arctic have generations of experience that they pass on to their children and so forth. Their interesting diets involve a balance of nutrients and allow for them to indulge in a variety of foods — despite the heavy snow and freezing temperatures they cope with.
It’s also important to note that those living in the Arctic can have completely different diets when compared to each other.
Diets especially differ when compared to those who came before us.
“Even the groups we came to know as Eskimo — which include the Inupiat and the Yupiks of Alaska, the Canadian Inuit and Inuvialuit, Inuit Greenlanders, and the Siberian Yupiks — have probably seen more changes in their diet in a lifetime than their ancestors did over thousands of years,” says Discover Magazine.
Things like accessibility, climate change, and even tradition all affect the way that we eat, from how we get our food to the way we cook it.
In studying these differences, you’ll find that although we have our own unique food tastes, we aren’t so different when it comes to craving variety in our food and using what we have to whip up the best meals possible.