Why Some Like It Hot – Review

“Why Some Like It Hot” by Gary Nabhan, subtitle – “Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity.” The author is described as an ethnobotanist -someone who studies “a region’s plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of a local culture and people. … investigating plants used by societies in various parts of the world.” For this book, throw in people’s genes. This is a fascinating travelogue of sorts as the author travels the world looking at ethnic cultures, their diets and genes, and how they reduce the survival threats of their homelands and how migration and/or changes in diet expose them to different threats they are not adapted to.

The first chapter, “Searching for the Ancestral Diet,” illustrates his central thesis. It is subtitled, “Did Mitochondrial Eve and Java Man Feast on the Same Foods?” It debunks the idea that one diet fits all, e.g. that all early homo genus ancestors ate the same things. Mitochondrial Eve lived in Rift Valley of Africa about 150,000 years ago and is the mother of 99.9% of modern homo sapiens. Java Man (homo erectus) arose in Asia, 700,000 to 1 million years ago. The earliest fossils were found in Java. Peking Man is now considered to be the same species. Both Mitochondrial Eve and Java/Peking Man are considered ancestors of modern humans. The idea that both of these ancestors were eating the same diet is absurd.

Nabhan journeys to Sardinia, Crete, Arizona and nearby Northern Mexico, and Hawai’i to work with the local people and study how their traditional diet, genes, local weather, diseases, and recent changes to their diet interact. In the Mediterranean and North Africa, malaria is historically the number one killer. One estimate is that half of homo sapiens has died of malaria. The G6PD allele (mutation) protects against malaria, but makes fava beans unhealthy for its carriers. Carriers get lethargic when the fava beans are blooming (“Baghdad fever”). There are cautions in the culture around consuming fava beans and spices or preparation procedure to lessen the effect.

People in desert climates are frequently more susceptible to diabetes, especially when they shift to a Western diet of heavily processed food. Nabhan’s wife conjectured that there was something intrinsic to desert plants worldwide to explain this. He identifies a possible substance (extracellular mucilage that buffers moisture) in Arizona and Northern Mexico cacti, but doesn’t followup with other desert climates.

He worked with native Hawaiian communities in their restoring their ancestral diets and community health, both diet and community.

I found his stories and discoveries intriguing. The communities he describes in the books are largely intact gene pools or with one additional gene pool/ethnicity.

Now I’m left to figure what can I do with this information? I had hoped that “Genes, Food and Culture – Eating Right for Your Origins” would help. It appears to be the same content with a different cover and title. The copyright dates are 7 years apart. If there are any changes, a quick read of the intro and first chapter didn’t reveal it.

I intend to pursue this idea. My wife and I carry the MTHFR mutation that he also discusses. Without methylated folate supplementation, our risk of cardio-vascular disease (strokes and heart attacks) is elevated. I’m 70 and my health is going down slow. What can I change in my diet to improve my health? My ancestors are scattered around the periphery of Europe: the Atlantic side of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal or northwest Spain), England, Scotland, northwestern Germany (Lower Saxony), Finland, and Eastern Europe. Going back a thousand years or more, my ancestors ate barley, rye, leafy greens, lamb, chicken, and pork. Going back 500 years, the more adventurous may have started eating potatoes, tomatoes, chilis (nightshade family from the New World), and rice, buckwheat, and soybeans from Asia.

Updates as I figure them out.

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Why Poetry

My poem, “Why Poetry,” is the first of the Ars Poetica series on Texas Poetry Assignment. Several poems on the Website have audio of the author reading it. This is the first with audio and video.

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Ars Poetica

Sunday, a week ago, I’d never heard of Ars Poetica. On Monday I wrote a poem arguing against Dunya Mikhail’s statement, “poetry is not medicine—it’s an X-ray.” It explained why I wrote and read poetry, sometimes as medicine, sometimes as X-ray. Later that day I encountered the term. The next day, Texas Poetry Assignment issued a Call for Submissions of Ars Poetica (Assignment #8). With some more polishing, I’ll be submitting it.

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Midnight Special

Midnight Special is a folk blues written from the standpoint of someone in prison. There are many versions. My favorite is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version (on YouTube, search for “Midnight Special CCR” if the link doesn’t work). As far as I know, none of the band members spent any time in prison or jail. Still, the song feels authentic. I wonder what prison, metaphorical or otherwise, they imagined themselves while singing the song. The studio version on Willy and the Poorboys (above) feels more authentic than the live version here. The latter pushes the beat rather than laying back behind the beat, a more blues sound.

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“Do You Love Me

… now that I can dance.” There is some incredible creativity going on in the world. Boston Dynamics, a robot maker, posted a video of its robots dancing to “Do You Love Me”, a song from my youth at the beginning of 2021 (search “Do You Love Me Boston Dynamics” on YouTube if the link doesn’t work). I found out about it through an article in my professional magazine, IEEE’s Spectrum. There’s months of hard work by human dancers, choreographers, and programmers, requiring improvements to the robot’s hardware and software in this two minute video.

In several ways is reminds me of how the COVID-19 vaccine came about so quickly after decades of work by scientists and other researchers. Two years ago many of the vaccine developers were working on cancer cures.

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Espresso Romano Riposato

Italian for rested Rome style espresso. Espresso in Italian means pressed as in coffee pressed into the porta-filter, extracted by pressure, and express, i.e. quickly. We been experimenting with espresso romano, espresso with lemon peel and optionally sugar. We’ve found it is best if left to rest for several minutes, allowing the lemon peel to flavor the drink. Hurry up and wait.

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Jazz Writing

The Art of Jazz: Learning to Co-Write with a Partner arrived in my e-mail box just after someone else’s draft in a writing group we share struck me as having a lot of potential to go in several ways. Rather than leave parts of it on the cutting room floor, I suggested taking it several different ways instead of tossing parts to focus on one theme. I asked for a copy of the draft and agreed to share my own edits.

My wife and I comment on each other’s writings (poetry, prose, and sermons). That is closer to an editor or critique group. This feels closer to collaboration and/or improvisation on someone else’s theme. Classical music does this all the time, but in separate compositions. This is a little finer grained than that.

One of my favorite fantasy novels is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens”. As I read more Neil Gaiman, I’m beginning to notice some of Neil’s themes: hidden identities and finding home. I doubt that Terry and Neil wrote entire chapters that the other had nothing to do with.

It will be an interesting exercise.

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What Takes To Do a TEDx Talk

The editors of Loud Coffee Press entered the competition to do a Western New England University TEDx Talk. In a recent post they shared the process of moving from idea to “show time”. It is a process the TEDx Talk people guided and supported them through.

Maybe that’s something to tentatively put into my bucket list.

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Reimagining democracy as a work of love

I’ve tried in poems, prose, essays, and action to articulate a way of moving beyond the over-partisanized politics in Texas and the United States (see my Social Justice category). Reimagining democracy as a work of love by Luke Roberts does it better and extends the vision beyond what I see.

When we say the word “democracy” what do we mean? My hunch is that most people immediately think of voting, party politics and perhaps the rule of law. Few, if any, think about the relational practices through which we transform asymmetries of power and negotiate rival visions of human flourishing. Yet democratic politics lives or dies by the quality and character of the relationships that make it possible. Democratic politics names a set of practices for generating forms of relational power and cooperation.

Democratic politics is not just participation in decision making, but also the capacity of ordinary people to act collectively to reconstitute their common life through shared speech and action.

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Learning to Pray – Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon is one of my favorite writers on the creative process. I’ve bought several of his books and read his blog.He shares bits of his work and parts of his process. Learning to Pray hit me from out of left field. A title like that in my feed reader isn’t surprising. Who wrote the post was. I’ve read several of his recommended books. This is not light reading. These are more like-how to hotrod your car in 300 weekends. Save the list or stick it in your public library account’s “To Be Read” list.

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