Food, Genes, and Culture – Eating Right for Your Origins
by Gary Nabhan
Vegan, low fat, low carb, slow carb: Every diet seems to promise a one-size-fits-all solution to health. But they ignore the diversity of human genes and how they interact with what we eat.
In Food, Genes, and Culture, renowned ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan shows why the perfect diet for one person could be disastrous for another. If your ancestors were herders in Northern Europe, milk might well provide you with important nutrients, whereas if you’re Native American, you have a higher likelihood of lactose intolerance. If your roots lie in the Greek islands, the acclaimed Mediterranean diet might save your heart; if not, all that olive oil could just give you stomach cramps.
Nabhan traces food traditions around the world, from Bali to Mexico, uncovering the links between ancestry and individual responses to food. The implications go well beyond personal taste. Today’s widespread mismatch between diet and genes is leading to serious health conditions, including a dramatic growth over the last 50 years in auto-immune and inflammatory diseases.
Readers will not only learn why diabetes is running rampant among indigenous peoples and heart disease has risen among those of northern European descent, but may find the path to their own perfect diet.
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.
This exploration of the coevolution of communities and their native foods couldn’t be more timely…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.
by Gary Nabhan
Foreword by Bill McKibben
With climatic uncertainty now “the new normal,” many farmers, gardeners, and orchardists in North America are desperately seeking ways to adapt how they grow food in the face of climate change. The solutions may be at our back door.
In Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, Nabhan, one of the world’s experts on the agricultural traditions of arid lands, draws from the knowledge of traditional farmers in the Gobi Desert, the Arabian Peninsula, the Sahara Desert, and Andalusia, as well as the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Painted deserts of North America to offer time-tried strategies, including:
- Building greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soils;
- Protecting fields from damaging winds, drought, and floods;
- Reducing heat stress on crops and livestock;
- Harvesting water from uplands to use in rain gardens and terraces filled with perennial crops;
- Selecting fruits, nuts, succulents, and herbaceous perennials that are best suited to warmer, drier climates; and,
- Keeping pollinators in pace and in place with arid-adapted crop plants.
“Emulating and refining these adaptations may help us secure food in the face of climate change,” writes Nabhan.
A certain type of agricultural history was made in 2011 when more than 500 food-producing counties in the continental United States were declared parts of disaster areas because they suffered weather-related crop failures. The searing heat waves and dry conditions suffered across seven-tenths of the United States during the summer of 2012 proved even more devastating: 2,228 counties were designated as federal disaster areas, where crops and livestock were either severely affected or lost to drought.
Drylands are home to 40 percent of the world’s people: a figure sure to rise in the coming decades as our world grows more parched. That is why Gary Nabhan’s latest book is indispensable. Everyone who grows food — make that, everyone who eats food — should be grateful he wrote it. An homage to old wisdom and to the latter-day soil magicians who are Nabhan’s living muses, it is a rich herbarium of delicious, hardy sustenance and a manual for our future.
Comments by: Diana Kennedy, Rick Baylees and Rowan Jacobson
Cover art by: Paul Mirocha
Why does food taste better when you know where it comes from? Because history—ecological, cultural, even personal—flavors every bite we eat. Whether it’s the volatile chemical compounds that a plant absorbs from the soil or the stories and memories of places that are evoked by taste, layers of flavor await those willing to delve into the roots of real food. In this landmark book, Gary Paul Nabhan takes us on a personal trip into the southwestern borderlands to discover the terroir—the “taste of the place”—that makes this desert so delicious.
To savor the terroir of the borderlands, Nabhan presents a cornucopia of local foods—Mexican oregano, mesquite-flour tortillas, grass-fed beef, the popular Mexican dessert capirotada, and corvina (croaker or drum fish) among them—as well as food experiences that range from the foraging of Cabeza de Vaca and his shipwrecked companions to a modern-day camping expedition on the Rio Grande. Nabhan explores everything from the biochemical agents that create taste in these foods to their history and dispersion around the world. Through his field adventures and humorous stories, we learn why Mexican oregano is most potent when gathered at the most arid margins of its range—and why foods found in the remote regions of the borderlands have surprising connections to foods found by his ancestors in the deserts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. By the end of his movable feast, Nabhan convinces us that the roots of this fascinating terroir must be anchored in our imaginations as well as in our shifting soils.
This latest book by Gary Nabhan shows him as an historian, an adventurer, a cook, and an ethnobotanist and, as such, a keen observer of the landscape around him. Ever since his first book, The Desert Smells Like Rain, I love to read his finely tuned descriptions of the natural world and here, once again, in Desert Terroir he makes us acutely aware of the never-ending variety of the plants, trees, and landscapes through which he is passing and through which we may have passed without taking heed.
Desert Terroir is deceptive. In these simple stories of people foraging and farming the lands of the Southwest, Gary Nabhan has captured the essence of the desert, and just maybe the essence of the place itself. Desert Terroir will make you crave wild oregano, mesquite tortillas, and yes, even camel sausage, but it will do more than that – locked within these pages are the secret codes to understanding life’s myriad answers to earth’s ancient questions. Read it, and see the wonder and the mystery through fresh eyes.
In the two decades I’ve known Gary Nabhan and the words he’s collected into books, I’ve eagerly anticipated every meeting, every new work. He remains ahead of the pack, exploring dimensions of agricultural heritage and food justice that most writers neglect. In Desert Terroir, he returns to what he does the best: telling delicious stories, rooted deeply in people and places, that will enrich our relationships with our favorite foods.
Chasing Chiles looks at both the future of place-based foods and the effects of climate change on agriculture through the lens of the chile pepper—from the farmers who cultivate this iconic crop to the cuisines and cultural traditions in which peppers play a huge role.
Why chile peppers? Both a spice and a vegetable, chile peppers have captivated imaginations and taste buds for thousands of years. Native to Mesoamerica and the New World, chiles are currently grown on every continent, since their relatively recent introduction to Europe (in the early 1500s via Christopher Columbus). Chiles are delicious, dynamic, and very diverse—they have been rapidly adopted, adapted, and assimilated into numerous world cuisines, and while malleable to a degree, certain heirloom varieties are deeply tied to place and culture—but now accelerating climate change may be scrambling their terroir.
Over a year-long journey, three pepper-loving gastronauts—an agroecologist, a chef, and an ethnobotanist—set out to find the real stories of America’s rarest heirloom chile varieties, and learn about the changing climate from farmers and other people who live by the pepper, and who, lately, have been adapting to shifting growing conditions and weather patterns. They put a face on an issue that has been made far too abstract for our own good.
A treasure trove of chile lore and a wake-up call to everyone who cares about real food, Chasing Chiles will amuse and alarm you. These three gastronauts carry a wealth of culinary and botanical knowledge, and their journeys in their Spice Ship uncover an incredibly diverse world of chiles that is changing with breathtaking speed. Stop worrying about the impact of climate change on future harvests; cross your fingers for this year’s instead.
Gary Paul Nabhan
The future of our food depends on tiny seeds in orchards and fields the world over. In 1943, one of the first to recognize this fact, the great botanist Nikolay Vavilov, lay dying of starvation in a Soviet prison. But in the years before Stalin jailed him as a scapegoat for the country’s famines, Vavilov had traveled over five continents, collecting hundreds of thousands of seeds in an effort to outline the ancient centers of agricultural diversity and guard against widespread hunger. Now, another remarkable scientist—and vivid storyteller—has retraced his footsteps.
In Where Our Food Comes From , Gary Paul Nabhan weaves together Vavilov’s extraordinary story with his own expeditions to Earth’s richest agricultural landscapes and the cultures that tend them. Retracing Vavilov’s path from Mexico and the Colombian Amazon to the glaciers of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, he draws a vibrant portrait of changes that have occurred since Vavilov’s time and why they matter.
In his travels, Nabhan shows how climate change, free trade policies, genetic engineering, and loss of traditional knowledge are threatening our food supply. Through discussions with local farmers, visits to local outdoor markets, and comparison of his own observations in eleven countries to those recorded in Vavilov’s journals and photos, Nabhan reveals just how much diversity has already been lost. But he also shows what resilient farmers and scientists in many regions are doing to save the remaining living riches of our world.