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Decolonizing the Diet

Decolonizing the Diet

Nutrition, Immunity, and the Warning from Early America

By Gideon Mailer & Nicola Hale

Synthesizing the science of nutrition, immunity and evolutionary genetics with a controversial new history of indigenous North America, “Decolonizing the Diet” shows how populations fail to recover from epidemics when their ability to hunt, gather and farm nutritionally dense plants and animals is diminished by war, colonization and cultural destruction.

PDF, 250 Pages

ISBN:9781783087150

March 2018

£18.36, $30.36

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EPUB, 250 Pages

ISBN:9781783087167

March 2018

£18.36, $30.36

  • About This Book
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About This Book

“Decolonizing the Diet” challenges the common claim that native American communities were decimated after 1492 because they lived in “virgin soils” that were distinct from those in the Old World. Comparing the European transition from Paleolithic hunting and gathering with native American subsistence strategies before and after 1492, this book offers a new way of understanding the link between biology, ecology and history. After examining the history and bioarchaeology of ancient Europe, the ancient Near East, ancient native America and Europe during the medieval Black Death, this book sets out to understand the subsequent collision between indigenous peoples and Europeans in North America from 1492 to the present day. Synthesizing the latest work in the science of nutrition, immunity, and evolutionary genetics with cutting edge scholarship on the history of indigenous North America, this book highlights a fundamental model of human demographic destruction—Human populations have been able to recover from mass epidemics within a century, whatever their genetic heritage. They fail to recover from epidemics when their ability to hunt, gather and farm nutritionally dense plants and animals is diminished by war, colonization and cultural destruction. The history of native America before and after 1492 clearly shows that biological immunity is contingent on historical context, not least in relation to the protection or destruction of long-evolved nutritional building blocks that underlie human immunity.

“Decolonizing the Diet” cautions against assuming that certain communities are more prone to metabolic syndromes and infectious diseases, whether due to genetic differences or a comparative lack of exposure to specific pathogens. This book refocuses our understanding on the ways in which human interventions—particularly in food production, nutritional accessibility and ecology—have exacerbated demographic decline in the face of disease; both in terms of reduced immunity prior to infection and reduced ability to fight pathogenic invasion.

“Decolonizing the Diet” provides a framework to approach contemporary health dilemmas, both inside and outside native America. Many developed nations now face a medical crisis: so-called “diseases of civilization” have been linked to an evolutionary mismatch between our ancient genetic heritage and our present social, nutritional and ecological environments. The disastrous European intervention in native American life after 1492 brought about a similar—though of course far more destructive— mismatch between biological needs and societal context. The curtailment of nutritional diversity is related to declining immunity in the face of infectious disease, to diminishing fertility and to the increasing prevalence of metabolic syndromes such as diabetes. “Decolonizing the Diet” thus intervenes in a series of historical and contemporary debates that now extend beyond native America—while noting the specific destruction wrought on indigenous nutritional systems after 1492.

Reviews

Yes! Magazine

"Mailer and Hale challenge us to consider how colonization’s multiple consequences—dietary changes, diseases, and settler invasions—resulted in long-term problems for Indigenous Peoples. Based on cutting-edge research on nutrition, immunity and ethnohistory, Decolonizing the Diet offers a fascinating analysis that both illuminates the past and informs the present."
—Paul Kelton, Professor of History and Robert David Lion Gardiner Chair, Department of History, Stony Brook University, USA

"Mailer and Hale provide a powerful critique of Virgin Soil theory and its claim that epidemics were the inevitable consequence of European colonization. Drawing on cutting-edge nutrition science, immunology, and archeology, they conclusively demonstrate how the chaos of encounter disrupted American Indian agriculture, triggered widespread malnutrition and left Indians susceptible to dire mortality."
—David S. Jones, A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine, Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine, Harvard University, USA

Author Information

Gideon A. Mailer is associate professor in early American history at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, USA.

Nicola E. Hale, specializing in genetics, cell biology and biochemistry, has worked in assistant scientist positions at the University of Cambridge, UK.

Series

No series for this title.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments; Introduction; Nutrition and Immunity in Native America: A Historical and Biological Controversy; Chapter 1:The Evolution of Nutrition and Immunity: From the Paleolithic Era to the Medieval European Black Death; Chapter 2: More Than Maize: Native American Subsistence Strategies from the Bering Migration to the Eve of Contact; Chapter 3: Micronutrients and Immunity in Native America, 1492– 1750; Chapter 4: Metabolic Health and Immunity in Native America, 1750– 1950; Epilogue: Decolonizing the Diet: Food Sovereignty and Biodiversity; Notes; Index.

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