“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.”—Epicurus
This fascinating book examines the biology and culture of foods and beverages that are consumed in communal settings, with special attention to their health implications. Nina Etkin covers a wealth of topics, exploring human evolutionary history, the Slow Food movement, ritual and ceremonial foods, caffeinated beverages, spices, the street foods of Hawaii and northern Nigeria, and even bottled water. Her work is framed by a biocultural perspective that considers both the physiological implications of consumption and the cultural construction and circulation of foods. For Etkin, the foods and beverages we consume are simultaneously “biodynamic substances and cultural objects.”
The book begins with a look at the social eating habits of our primate relatives and discusses our evolutionary adaptations. It then offers a history of social foods in the era of European expansion, with a focus on spices and “caffeinated cordials.” (Of course, there were some powerful physiological consequences of eating foods brought home by returning explorers, and those are considered too—along with consequences for native peoples.) From there, the book describes “street food,” which is always served in communal settings. Etkin then scrutinizes ceremonial foods and beverages, and considers their pharmacological effects as well. Her extensive examination concludes by assessing the biological and cultural implications of bottled water.
While intended primarily for scholars, this enticing book serves up a tantalizing smorgasbord of food for thought.
In a world now filled with more people who are overweight than underweight, public health and medical perspectives paint obesity as a catastrophic epidemic that threatens to overwhelm health systems and undermine life expectancies globally. In many societies, being obese also creates profound personal suffering because it is so culturally stigmatized. Yet despite loud messages about the health and social costs of being obese, weight gain is a seemingly universal aspect of the modern human condition.
Grounded in a holistic anthropological approach and using a range of ethnographic and ecological case studies, Obesity shows that the human tendency to become and stay fat makes perfect sense in terms of evolved human inclinations and the physical and social realities of modern life. Drawing on her own fieldwork in the rural United States, Mexico, and the Pacific Islands over the last two decades, Alexandra A. Brewis addresses such critical questions as why obesity is defined as a problem and why some groups are so much more at risk than others. She suggests innovative ways that anthropology and other social sciences can use community-based research to address the serious public health and social justice concerns provoked by the global spread of obesity.