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

3.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1559634663
ISBN-10: 1559634669
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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Ethnobotanist and nutritional ecologist Nabhan continues the paradigm-altering investigation into the matrix of food, place, ethnicity, and well-being that he's been conducting in such influential books as Coming Home to Eat (2002). A leading voice in the slow-food movement and a thoroughly engaging guide, Nabhan now delineates the evolutionary dimension of newly recognized interactions among cuisine, culture, and genetics that inspired him to modify an old adage: "We are what our ancestors ate and drank." He teases out the evolutionary secrets of chili peppers and explains why some folks like them hot and others can't take the heat. Since it's easiest to see the hidden benefits of ethnic cuisines in isolated island societies, he travels to Sardinia, where, for centuries, fava beans have protected the populace from malaria, and to Hawaii, where natives have discovered that traditional yet neglected taro dishes control diabetes. With millions of people suffering from little-understood food-related maladies, Nabhan's revelations of the complexities of our inherited interactions with food, the true significance of the healthful "synergies" of traditional ethnic cuisines, and the essentiality of both biodiversity and cultural diversity are as critical as they are fascinating. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Shearwater Books; First Edition edition (August 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559634669
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559634663
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Newton Ooi on June 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book lies at the intersection of several fields, including but not limited to nutrition, history, evolutionary biology, agriculture, biochemistry and genetics. The author's premise can be stated as follow: the members of any ethnic group have evolved to adapt to the edible materials present in their environment to maximize their survival chances. At first, this premise does not seem like much, as the author admits early in the book. But he proceeds to examine several vary different ethnic cuisines, and the environment and culture they arose in, and then shows us how different ethnic groups can require vastly different diets in order to lead healthy and long lives. The ramifications then become huge. For instance, the Atkins diet and Mediterranean-based diets are really not that appropriate for all types of people; but only for those of specific ethnic backgrounds.

Some of science cited in this book is quite important. First, the author explains how the use of spices is related to food preservation. Specifically, food like meat spoils quicker in tropical areas than temperate areas. Many spices kill microbes that spoil meats, hence early humans in tropical areas learned by trial and error to add spices to their foods to preserve them longer. Second, the author demonstrates the links between diet and environment. For example, diet of fava beans is useless vis-a-vis other types of beans in arid environments. But in a climate full of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, ingesting fava beans changes the blood chemistry to reduce the likelihood of a malarial infection.

The book is written as a combination of personal narrative and scientific text.
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Format: Paperback
I really feel torn about this book. I was drawn to it because I do NOT "like it hot" and wanted to see if I could find an explanation for it. I did - I'm a supertaster & I am forever grateful to this book for bringing this concept to my attention. Nabhan has also gotten me even more excited about ethnobotany, and it's always fun to get excited about something.
However, I had a hard time getting through this book. I found myself thinking, "it'll get better" and "he'll get to the point" more than I like to. I think Nabhan was really trying to be accessible but I generally found it annoying; I wish he'd given more general ideas of conversations instead of dialogs.
I agree this book could use some reorganization and a better editor. The middle was the worst - with repeated words, misspellings and parts just didn't make sense. I read the part about fava beans at least 3 times and I'm still not sure I fully understand everything that he was obviously very excited about.
I was also confused about the point of this book - at some points it seems he wrote it as a response to fad diets such as the "caveman diet." I agree with his stance on these diets, but I was never interested in them and don't care to read about them. Other times the book seems to be more about what he's seen and done and what he thought about it. Other parts are about what I was interested in - how your genetics, life experience, food availability and family/community traditions shape what and how you eat. I was expecting a book solely about this and felt these parts were much too short.
I would love to see a revised edition (I know it only came out a few years ago). I think Nabhan has a lot of interesting things to write about. I am very glad I read this book & will recommend it to others, but I would tell them to skim large parts of it. I think it could be broken into at least 3 focused books that would be much more interesting.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book presents an interesting hypothesis, i.e. that our genetics have been affected by the food we and our ancestors ate, and vice-versa. What could have been a fascinating read turned into a boring series of anecdotes and random statistics. Seemingly random ethnic groups (apparently the ones the author is familiar with or chose for whatever reason to investigate) are discussed and shown to have unusual consequences from food consumption. This book needed to be edited and material reorganized.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
All I can say is that the people who gave this a low rating must have had some issue they were pushing. Obviously, this info is a nail in the coffin of the "this diet works for everyone" groups. This is not a book knocking down straw men at all, though he does that as well. The author is knowledgeable and presents the information in a readable format. Unless you are the proponent of a particular diet or have the IQ of a rock, this book ought to appeal to you if you are interested in how and why foods and even medicines interact in certain ways with your body. It is readable, and well edited despite reviews to the contrary. I seriously wonder if some of the reviews were written by competitors who have written diet books! I am also seriously tired of people giving ones and twos to great books like this because they don't agree with evolution or can't understand the science involved. If you have an objection like that, then obviously the book was not your cup of tea. Please go review something that is. This is a great breakthrough in the way we look at food and it deserves a fair hearing
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