Saturday, April 14, 2007

Reading about food

I've been reading or re-reading several food books. Here are some quotations that I found especially interesting.
“Your stomach can’t count…. and what’s more, we get no help from our attention or our memory. We don’t register how many pieces of candy we had from the communal candy dish at work, and whether we ate 20 French fries or 30….It’s not necessarily that we’re trying to fool ourselves, or that we’re living in blissful, snug-clothing denial. We’re just not designed to accurately keep track of how much we’ve consumed.” (Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating, New York, 2006, p. 36-37)

“Increasing the variety of a food increases how much everyone eats. … what would happen if we gave two people huge bowls of M&M’s to snack on while they watched a video? The only difference between the bowls is that one has 7 colors of M&M’s and the other has 10 colors. Most people know that all M&M’s taste alike… The person with 10 colors will eat 43 more M&M’s (99 versus 56) than his friend with 7 colors.” (Wansink, p. 73-74)

“This reverence for, or indeed, worship of bread is strange to us, being accustomed to a post-industrial diet wich is unique in lacking a basic carbohydrate staple. To the Aztecs, the Maya, the Inca, and the Europeans of the sixteenth century bread was the all-important carbohydrate source the lack of which meant famine and the presence of which, even alone, meant that one was fed and contented…. Modern ignorance of this concept of the basic carbohydrate staple has led to numerous misinterpretations of the sources [about pre-Columbian diet] which would have been impossible had the reader been brought up in a society which depended on a single staff of life.” (Sophie D. Coe, America’s First Cuisines, Austin, 1994, p.9)

“There is compelling evidence in Jeffrey Steingarten's iconoclastic book The Man Who Ate Everything that the more tedious and unvariegated each plateful is, the less likely we are to overeat. But really, who wants to be bored as a way of avoiding obesity?” (Zoe Williams, “Chuck out the spag bol!”, The Guardian online, Tuesday March 20, 2007)

“Yes, genes matter, but diverse diets and exercize patterns matter just as much. And when the positive interaction among all three of these factors is reinforced by strong cultural traditions, our physical health improves, as does our determination to keep it that way…. When the persistence of traditional foods is more widely recognized as a source of both cultural pride and as an aid to physical survival and well-being, I doubt that many Native American communities will abandon what many of them feel to be a true gift from their Creator.” (Gary Paul Nabhan, Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity, Washington, D.C, 2004, p. 185)

The three books treat a variety of food topics: history, eating behavior, detailed interaction of genes and diet, and social contexts. Each one offers a fascinating look into its author's area of expertise. Each one (as well as the Guardian article) stresses the contrast between modern urban life and the life of a variety of people in the past.

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