WHY SOME LIKE IT HOT: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity

Gary Paul Nabhan, Author . Island $24 (244p) ISBN 978-1-55963-466-3

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.)

Reviewed on: 08/02/2004
Release date: 08/01/2004
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