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Food And Evolution: Toward a Theory of Human Food Habits

Symposium Eric B.; Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Marvin; Ross Harris

Publication Year: 2009

"Many topics of interest to health professionals, such as vegetarianism, dietary fibers, lactose intolerance, favism, cannibalism and changes in nutritional status wrought by the decline of hunter-gathering and the rise of horticulture. Many sections will appeal to the general reader." —Journal of Applied Nutrition The old adage "you are what you eat" may be more accurate than anyone could have ever imagined. This unprecedented interdisciplinary effort by scholars in primatology, biological anthropology, archaeology, nutrition, psychology, agricultural economics, and cultural anthropology suggests that there is a systematic theory behind why humans eat what they eat. Includes discussions ranging in time from prehistory to the present, and from the most simple societies to the most complex, including South American Indian groups, African hunter-gatherers, and countries such as India, Bangladesh, Peru, and Mexico. "Exceptionally well-edited. High quality individual papers are of comparable scope and are uniformly well referenced and detailed in presentation of supporting data Introductory and concluding chapters as well as section overviews create an integrated whole." —Choice "Compelling...complete and...recommended." —Science Books & Films "Should be of value to all nutrition educators who have an interest in the social, cultural, and international aspects of foods and nutrition." —Journal of Nutrition Education

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. 1-3

THIS BOOK RESULTS FROM AN INTERDISCIPLINARY EFFORT TO advance our understanding of why human beings in differing times and places eat what they do. It begins, at the most fundamental level, with the collective view of the editors and other...

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Part I: Theoretical Overview

THE TWO ESSAYS THAT FOLLOW SHARE AN EXPLICIT materialist strategy and are addressed specifically to the question of the general determinants of food preferences and avoidances. They range over a variety of pre-state and state-level foodways, highlighting food practices that have generally been regarded as beyond the pale of nomothetic approaches or whose cost-benefit significance is in dispute....

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1. An Overview of Trends in Dietary Variation from Hunter-Gatherer to Modern Capitalist Societies

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pp. 7-55

THE STUDY OF VARIATION AND CHANGE IN HUMAN DIETS especially in that most enigmatic dimension of dietary custom, food preferences and avoidances-is important in several respects. In a general way, it compels us to confront and challenge the possibilities and limits of cultural explanation (see Ross 1980), while, more...

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2. Foodways: Historical Overview and Theoretical Prolegomenon

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pp. 57-90

THE RECENT HISTORY OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO food preferences and aversions is necessarily a history of divergent research strategies. Idealist approaches have emphasized the discovery and appreciation of foodways in which...

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Part II: Bioevolutionary Antecedents and Constraints

LIKE MOST PRIMATES, HUMANS AR1~ OMNIVORES IN THE narrow sense of consuming both plants and animals. This omnivorous capability is undoubtedly a phylogenetic characteristic-a part of "human nature." Yet omnivory is a rather vague dietary concept....

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3. Primate Diets and Cut Morphology: Implications for Hominid Evolution

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pp. 93-115

THERE IS CURRENTLY STRONG INTER~EST IN DEVELOPING A better understanding of the probable food habits and dietary niche of early humans (Isaac 1978; Peters and O'Brian 1981; Stahl 1984). Without such information, we are handicapped in our ability to interpret the significance of many features of human morphology and to...

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4. Omnivorous Primate Diets and Human Overconsumption of Meat

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pp. 117-132

EVOLUTIONARY ANALYSIS OF CONTEMPORARY HUMAN DIETARY preferences is an aggregate science, consisting of several distinct approaches. These include: (1) analysis of early hominid diets; (2) the study of the diets of non-human primate species and possible regulating principles underlying them; and (3) theories concerned...

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5. Fava Bean Consumption: A Case for the Co-Evolution of Genes and Culture

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pp. 133-159

OVER THE LAST 15 YEARS MY COLLEAGUES AND I HAVE BEEN investigating the interface between human nutritional needs and the traditional cultural food practices that satisfy the nutrient needs of the individual and the population as a whole (Katz and Foulks 1970). For example, we have studied the interrelations between human...

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Part III: Nutritional and Biopsychological Constraints

THE ESSAYS OF PART III DEAL WITH GENETICALLY determined biopsychological factors that affect foodways from the standpoint of nutritional adequacy and"taste." From a materialist perspective, it is axiomatic that human foodways that lead to...

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6. Problems and Pitfalls in the Assessment of Human Nutritional Status

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pp. 163-179

MORE THAN 40 SEPARATE ELEMENTS OR COMPOUNDS HAVE NOW been identified as necessary for life, together with at least 40 grams per day of amino acids as protein and more than 200 grams per day of a mixture of carbohydrate, protein, and fat that can be metabolized for energy. Although all these materials are required for...

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7. Psychobiological Perspectives on Food Preferences and Avoidances

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pp. 181-205

OUR WORK ON FOOD PREFERENCES AND AVOIDANCES COMES from a psychobiological perspective, but has been aided and enriched by information and perspectives from anthropology. I hope in this paper to show how a psychobiological approach can ask...

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8. The Preference for Animal Protein and Fat: A Cross-Cultural Survey

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pp. 207-223

FROM BOTH A DIACHRONIC AND A SYNCRHONIC PERSPECTIVE, the preference for some type of animal protein and animal fat in human diets is a cultural imperative (Abrams 1979). Usually animal fat accompanies animal protein in foods (USDA 1975). Hence, when...

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9. Biocultural Consequences of Animals Versus Plants as Sources of Fats, Proteins, and Other Nutrients

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pp. 225-258

THIS CHAPTER DESCRIBES THE PHYSIOLOGICAL AND sociocultural consequences of widely divergent diets based on either high animal or high plant intake. I examine variability in nutrient needs and nutrient sources and the benefits and liabilities...

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Part IV: Pre-State Foodways: Past and Present

GRANTED THAT THERE ARE INNATE BIOPSYCHOLOGICAL restraints on human diets, we are still left with the problem of accounting for the enormous variability of foodways and their divergence and convergence during the course of cultural evolution. The essays in Part IV deal with these diachronic and synchronic variations in...

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10. The Significance of Long-Term Changes in Human Diet and Food Economy

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pp. 261-283

HUMAN BEINGS INHERIT FROM THEIR PRIMATE ANCESTORS A common set of nutritive needs as well as a set of limited physiological capabilities for intake, absorption, storage, and excretion and a sensory apparatus that guides food choice. All appear...

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11. Life in the "Garden of Eden": Causes and Consequences of the Adoption of Marine Diets by Human Societies

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pp. 285-310

IN EXAMINING THE BIOCULTURAL BASIS OF HUMAN FOOD preferences and aversions, it is important to document not only short-term idiosyncratic aspects of human foodways, but also longer-term historical trends underlying the acceptance and rejection...

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12. The Analysis of Hunter-Gatherer Diets: Stalking an Optimal Foraging Model

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pp. 311-339

MY TITLE ALLUDES TO HUNTING. THE IMAGERY IS DELIBERATE: I intend a somewhat predatory engagement with the subject. How do ecological factors affect hunter-gatherer decisions about the harvest of non-produced food resources? What are the...

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13. How Much Food Do Foragers Need?

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pp. 341-355

AN INTERESTING EMPIRICAL PUZZLE IS POSED BY RECENT observations on foraging effort among hunter-gatherers. In the mid-1960s, the Dobe Kung of Botswana reportedly spent no more than 20 hours per week collecting resources that yielded an average of 2,100 kilocalories per consumer day (Lee 1968, 1969). Many anthropologists...

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14. Aborginal Subsistence in a Tropical Rain Forest Environment: Food Procurement, Cannibalism, and Population Regulation in Northeastern Australia

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pp. 357-385

In this chapter an indigenous, non-Westernized dietary pattern is analyzed as a contribution to the understanding of human food procurement and nutrition in tropical rain-forest environments. The example is drawn from northern Queensland, specifically the southeastern Cape York Peninsula, where an Australian Aboriginal population of foragers,...

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15. Ecological and Structural Influences on the Proportions of Wild Foods in the Diets of Two Machiguenga Communities

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pp. 387-405

A MAJOR THEME ADDRESSED IN THIS VOLUME CONCERNS THE usefulness of competing or alternative explanatory frameworks in accounting for the observed patterns of food procurement and food consumption among different human populations. In this...

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16. Limiting Factors in Amazonian Ecology

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pp. 407-421

IN RECENT YEARS MUCH DEBATE HAS FOCUSED ON THE signficance of protein in the diet of tropical forest populations. On the one hand a number of authors have emphasized the limited supply of animal protein and the significance of this limitation on village...

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Part V: The Political Economy and the Political Ecology of Contemporary Foodways

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pp. 423-425

THE SIX ESSAYS IN THIS SECTION ADDRESS SOME OF THE MANY problems that arise in considering diet in state-level societies, with all the contradictory and countervailing forces and intersecting social relations that such systems encompass. They all suggest that, whatever...

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17. Loaves and Fishes in Bangladesh

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pp. 427-443

IN AN INTRODUCTION TO COLLOQUIAL BENGALI, PUBLISHED IN 1970, a farmer is asked, "What crops do you raise?" The hypothetical Bangladeshi villager replies, "I raise paddy, jute, chili and mustard," to which the enquirer responds, "Don't you raise com or wheat?" This elicits the reply: "No sir, com or wheat can't....

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18. Animal Protein Consumption and the Sacred Cow Complex in India

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pp. 445-454

PEOPLE IN INDIA EAT A PREDOMINANTLY VEGETARIAN DIET. AT the same time, roughly 70 percent of the population is estimated to be non-vegetarian. For vegetarians milk is practically the only source of animal protein, but the non-vegetarians consume a variety of other flesh foods as well. Such preferences for animal...

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19. The Effects of Colonialism and Neocolonialism on the Gastronomic Patterns of the Third World

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pp. 455-479

THE EFFECTS OF COLONIALISM AND NEOCOLONIALISM ON THE Gastronomic Patterns of the Third World can be summed up in one word: contradictory. On the one hand, the capitalist economic system-the primary motivator of modern...

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20. Stability and Change in Highland Andean Dietary Patterns

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pp. 481-515

The diet of the highland Andean peasants reflects their complex history. The virtual isolation of South America before European conquest and the emergence of civilizations from pre-agricultural societies account in part for the strong presence in the diet of...

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21. Social Class and Diet in Contemporary Mexico

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pp. 517-540

IN CONTEMPORARY MEXICO THERE ARE SHARP CONTRASTS between the diets of the great masses of poor families and those of the (largely urban) middle and upper classes. The contrasts are demonstrable in data on "habitual diet," "amounts spent...

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22. From Costa Rican Pasture to North American Hamburger

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pp. 541-561

SINCE THE MID-1950S, THE CENTRAL AMERICAN COUNTRIES HAVE experienced a new export boom based on the production of beef for the United States market. This paper first discusses the changes in U.S. beef production and consumption patterns that lie behind the expansion of export-oriented ranching in Central America. It then...

Part VI: Discussion and Conclusion

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23. The Evolution of Human Subsistence

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pp. 565-578

WHY IS FOOD IMPORTANT IN THE LARGER SCHEME OF THINGS? from the first efforts to explain human biological and cultural evolution, subsistence has been causally implicated. The very origin of the species is thought to have been related to changes in primate subsistence, and some of the major epochs of our cultural history are...

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24. Biocultural Aspects of Food Choice

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pp. 579-594

THE DETERMINATION OF FOOD CHOICE REMAINS ONE OF THE most perplexing anthropological problems. Traditional anthropological explanations have relied on cultural factors to interpret differences in food habits. Although some of the earlier functional...

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pp. 595-597

WITHOUT ATTEMPTING TO INDULGE IN TOO DETAILED OR comprehensive a summary of all the varied themes and arguments contained in this volume, it is appropriate to pick out several of the larger questions that have been raised by its many papers. First, there is inevitably the question...

About the Contributors

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pp. 601-606


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pp. 607-611

Name Index

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pp. 613-624

Subject Index

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pp. 625-633

E-ISBN-13: 9781439901038
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877224358

Publication Year: 2009