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Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity

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Do your ears burn whenever you eat hot chile peppers? Does your face immediately flush when you drink alcohol? Does your stomach groan if you are exposed to raw milk or green fava beans? If so, you are probably among the one-third of the world's human population that is sensitive to certain foods due to your genes' interactions with them.

Formerly misunderstood as "genetic disorders," many of these sensitivities are now considered to be adaptations that our ancestors evolved in ...

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Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity

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Overview

Do your ears burn whenever you eat hot chile peppers? Does your face immediately flush when you drink alcohol? Does your stomach groan if you are exposed to raw milk or green fava beans? If so, you are probably among the one-third of the world's human population that is sensitive to certain foods due to your genes' interactions with them.

Formerly misunderstood as "genetic disorders," many of these sensitivities are now considered to be adaptations that our ancestors evolved in response to the dietary choices and diseases they faced over millennia in particular landscapes. They are liabilities only when we are "out of place," on globalized diets depleted of certain chemicals that triggered adaptive responses in our ancestors.

In Why Some Like It Hot, an award-winning natural historian takes us on a culinary odyssey to solve the puzzles posed by "the ghosts of evolution" hidden within every culture and its traditional cuisine. As we travel with Nabhan from Java and Bali to Crete and Sardinia, to Hawaii and Mexico, we learn how various ethnic cuisines formerly protected their traditional consumers from both infectious and nutrition-related diseases. We also bear witness to the tragic consequences of the loss of traditional foods, from adult-onset diabetes running rampant among 100 million indigenous peoples to the historic rise in heart disease among individuals of northern European descent.

In this, the most insightful and far-reaching book of his career, Nabhan offers us a view of genes, diets, ethnicity, and place that will forever change the way we understand human health and cultural diversity. This book marks the dawning of evolutionary gastronomy in a way thatmay save and enrich millions of lives.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
"Nabhan addresses fascinating issues . . . [He] writes compassionately about indigenous groups—like Native Americans and ethnic Hawaiians—that are threatened by globalization."
Nature
"[Nabhan] takes the reader on a trail of discovery . . . thought provoking . . . the book is well worth reading."
Library Bookwatch
"Why Some Like It Hot is a masterpiece of investigation . . . A fascinating survey evolves which will thoughtfully interest any truly dedicated nutritionist, professional chef, or family kitchen cook."
author of Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age - Bill McKibben
"Move over Dr. Atkins—here's someone who really understands what a body needs. In a homogenized world, it is delightful to be reminded that our cells and organs follow a much older and more complex set of instructions. Read it before you head out to the market for this week's shopping!"
Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences at Sta - Paul R. Ehrlich
"In this fascinating book, Gary Nabhan, a fine scientist and first-rate writer, reminds us that the relationships of our genes and food choices are not random, but rather brilliant demonstrations of biological and cultural evolution in action."
M.D., author of The Healthy Kitchenand 8 Weeks to Optimum Health - Andrew Weil
"Gary Nabhan writes in novel and always interesting ways about food and culture and the genetic underpinnings that may account for differences in taste. His reflections on how different ways of eating affect the health of human societies provide substantial food for thought."
owner of Chez Panisse - Alice Waters
"Gary Nabhan is one of the most important food writers we have in this country. In this eloquent and fascinating book, he shows us how our food and culture are so deeply rooted in our land and agriculture."
BellaOnline
"The author takes the reader on a fascinating gastronomic tour to show how our genes influence our reactions to food, encouraging readers to become aware of their particular cultural heritage and apply this knowledge in their lives."
Publishers Weekly
With 21st-century science promising better living through genetic engineering, and myriad diet fads claiming to be the answer to obesity and disease, this exploration of the coevolution of communities and their native foods couldn't be more timely. Ethnobiologist Nabhan (Coming Home to Eat) investigates the intricate web of culture, food and environment to show that even though 99.9% of the genetic makeup of all humans is identical, "each traditional cuisine has evolved to fit the inhabitants of a particular landscape or seascape over the last several millennia." Sardinians are genetically sensitive to fava beans, which can give them anemia but can also protect them from the malaria once epidemic in the region. Navajos are similarly sensitive to sage. In both cases, traditional knowledge allows safe interactions with these powerful medicine/poisons through cooking methods or food combinations. Nabhan questions the wisdom of genetic therapy, which "normalizes" the "bad" genes that can cause sickness but also enhance immunity. Most inspiring in this bioethnic detective story are Cretans, maintaining their health for centuries through traditional living, and Native Americans and Hawaiians, whose communities, devastated by diabetes, find an antidote by returning to their traditional foods, customs and agriculture. Mixing hard science with personal anecdotes, Nabhan convincingly argues that health comes from a genetically appropriate diet inextricably entwined with a healthy land and culture. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
BellaOnline - Connie Krochmal

"The author takes the reader on a fascinating gastronomic tour to show how our genes influence our reactions to food, encouraging readers to become aware of their particular cultural heritage and apply this knowledge in their lives."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597260916
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 5/5/2006
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, seed saver, conservation biologist and sustainable agriculture activist who has been called “the father of the local food movement” by Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Carleton College and Unity College. Gary is also an orchard-keeper, wild forager and Ecumenical Franciscan brother in his hometown of Patagonia, Arizona near the Mexican border.
He is author or editor of twenty-four books, some of which have been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Croation, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. For his writing and collaborative conservation work, he has been honored with a MacArthur “genius” award, a Southwest Book Award, the John Burroughs Medal for nature writing, the Vavilov Medal, and lifetime achievement awards from the Quivira Coalition and Society for Ethnobiology.
He works as most of the year as a research scientist at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona, and the rest as co-founder-facilitator of several food and farming alliances, including Renewing America’s Food Traditions and Flavors Without Borders.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
 
Chapter 1. Sailing through Histories Encoded in Our Bodies
Chapter 2. Searching for the Ancestral Diet Did Mitochondrial Eve and Java Man Feast on the Same Foods?
Chapter 3. Finding a Bean for Your Genes and a Buffer against Malaria
Chapter 4. The Shaping and Shipping Away of Mediterranean Cuisines
Chapter 5. Discovering Why Some Don’t Like It Hot: Is It a Matter of Taste?
Chapter 6. Dealing with Migration Headaches Should We Change Places, Diets, or Genes?
Chapter 7. Rooting Out the Causes of Disease Why Diabetes Is So Common among Desert-Dwellers?
Chapter 8. Reconnecting the Health of the People with the Health of the Land: How Hawaiians Are Curing Themselves
 
Sources
Index
 

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