The Anthropology of How We Eat: Sugars, Fats and Salt
by Lisa TracyLook up “food anthropology” on the Web, and you’ll find some fascinating tidbits. One study posits that our gut bacteria are responsible for our cravings. Another says it’s whatever culture we grew up in. A third talks about the uniquely human phenomenon of cooked food. It’s the dopamine, says a fourth site ~ our brains are wired for pleasure, and sugars, fats, and yes, salt trip the nervous-system wires that send the signal to the brain to release the pleasure-linked chemical.
Yes, all good. But WHY?
Why do we eat what we do, and why do we WANT to eat foods we know aren’t healthy?
Thanks to Mark at herbfit.wordpress.com and to Mary Lynn at gapsconsulting.com for recent comments about the vegetarian/vegan/omnivore’s dilemma. Mark points out that most soy currently being raised is fed to animals and that for the sake of the planet we’d do better to eat the animal feed than the animals!
For sure, say I. But I am still focusing on what monoculture crops are doing to the environment, and if you drive in this country through vast areas of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, for example, soy is one of those monocultures. They’re so potentially destructive, with their need for fertilizers and pesticides.
Mary Lynn mentions Weston A. Price’s research. As she says: “His conclusions about the link between food and either chronic degenerative disease or vibrant health came when he studied the diet of those not touched by ‘conventional’ (processed) food. His study, which spanned a decade and took place about 100 years ago, was compelling. He discovered what the healthiest peopl
e ate and he found not a single tribe or community of vegetarians. There was always some sort of animal (or insect) food found in those he studied though he secretly believed he would find healthy people who were vegetarian.”
She notes that our dental structure includes those canine teeth found in carnivores, and adds, “We secrete hydrochloric acid in the stomach which is meant to break down muscle fibers and other proteins.”
But many traditional cultures ate much less animal-based food than we currently do. I know that Mary Lynn doesn’t disagree — she advocates ghee and other animal-based products as well as vegetable fats.
Unfortunately, with a global economy, everyone on the planet now wants to have the opportunity to eat the way only the wealthiest could in the past. How are those of us in the “First World” to deny those who’ve never had the opportunity?
Thanks to both of you for moving this conversation forward. The question for me still remains, How are we going to manage ourselves on this planet in a way that doesn’t destroy the biosphere? As Mark notes, there’s no quick answer here. But let’s keep on working at it.
In the months ahead, I’m hoping to explore a little more closely what we CAN eat. What drove many of us to vegetarianism years ago was learning about the unhealthy nature of the beef and poultry industries — both for us and for the planet. In THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA, Michael Pollan took that line of thinking further, starting with his observations about corn, ethanol, and what we might call Big Grain. Monsanto, anyone?
What’s true of grain and beef is true of soybeans too. There goes a protein-rich mainstay of the traditional vegan diet. Now folks are turning to coconut oil for salvation. But you know, ANY monoculture crop is a problem — a BIG problem, sorry to say! Just google Indonesia and rain forests if you don’t believe me. Those coconut trees have to grow someplace, and it won’t be in New England.
So what CAN we eat? The impetus to buy, cook and eat whatever locally grown foods may thrive in your neighborhood maybe isn’t quite as trendy as the idea of being vegan. Part of the problem is that everyone’s microclimate is different and that prevents locally-grown from easily translating into a global movement. But it shouldn’t. And locally grown is part of the answer.