Geek's Corner - Food and Humanity

"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are"

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste, 1825
French gourmet & lawyer (1755 - 1826)

A while ago, when I was writing my thesis proposal (so a very long time ago) I read a great book called "The Rice Economies" by a woman called Francesca Bray. It explained that many people have failed to understand Asian agriculture and therefore culture because they try to understand it and continue to compare it with western agriculture. The book explains the fundamental properties of the rice plant, how as a plant the highest yields are traditionally achieved by labour intensification as opposed to capital extensification like wheat. Think of the traditional image of small bunded rice paddies with peasants hunched over in the sun versus enourmous wheat fields with combine harvesters rolling off into the horizon. This is what she means. Rice also produces more tonnes per hectare of food than wheat thereby supporting larger populations, which in turn can add to labour intensification. Rice also typically, not always, requires complex large-scale water management systems if one is to get the most out of the crop. While disputed, Karl Wittfogel claimed in his book Oriental Depotism, that this requirement led many Asian societies to develop what he termed hydraulic civilisations based on the control of water through authoritarian managerial regimes.

Anyway, the point is when you study food systems you usually arrive not too long into at culture I thought the geeks among you may enjoy reading this small thesis entitled "Human societies are defined by their food". The final sections present, what I consider to be some pretty humdrum, standard lefty comments at the end, but the initial sections are useful.

"All evolution is ultimately geared towards genetic reproduction, but to achieve that end, evolution works on two broad goals: the reproduction of life, and the maintenance of life (at least until reproduction has been achieved). These can be reduced with little violence to the truth to the essential drives for food, and sex. Most of the necessities humans require could be served by any social group. Any mixing of males and females will invariably lead to sexual relationships and the successful rearing of children. Protection from the elements is gained easily through any number of methods. That leaves food as the factor which society must spend most of its effort procuring. Not only is food a requirement which is needed on a much more regular basis than sex or protection from the elements, it is also a much riskier prospect than the others. Minimally, only a single sexual liason may result in offspring, and a single shelter can protect several individuals from the elements for an extended period of time--but most people must eat several times a day. In any social group with both males and females, sexual relationships will form, and protection from the elements can be easily attained in any environment--but famines often afflict whole bioregions for lengthy periods of time, and hunger and starvation can even become endemic to an entire population. Any form of society would suffice for our other basic needs. Culture develops primarily as a means of procuring food, and everything in a given culture serves that end."


    Side note: I found it quite interesting a few years back when the 'Eat Right for Your Blood Type' book made claims that the various blood types were descended from foragers, hunter/gatherers/ horticulturalists etc.
    For example it posited that O-types were descended from hunter gatherers and therefore were predisposed to be suited to a high protein low carb diet.

    Some aspects of the supposed 'O type' rang true with me (the suggested foods to eat or avoid at the time really made sense, also the susceptability to scarlet fever - which I had as a child)

    anyway, a fascinating idea, this blood typed nutrition requirements fantasy (who doesn't want to imagine themself as a prehistoric spear-throwing hunter or a mild leaf-chewing pastoral nomad or whatever?), but clearly a load of rubbish....

    as repudiated at the following link:


    Blood Type : O
    The Hunter : strong, self reliant, leader

    Hardy digestive tract
    Strong immune system

    Natural defenses against infections

    System designed for efficient metabolism and preservation of nutrients

    Intolerant to new dietary, environment conditions
    Immune system can be overactive and attack itself

    Blood clotting disorders
    Inflammatory diseases eg. arthritis

    Low thyroid production



    High protein : meat eaters meat, fish, vegetables, fruit
    Limited : grains, beans, legumes

    Avoid : wheat, corn, navy beans, kidney beans, lentils, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, mustard greens
    Aids : kelp, seafood, salt, liver, red meat, spinach, kale, broccoli

    Vitamin B
    Vitamin K





    Intense physical exercise, such as :

    martial arts

    contact sports

    Blood Type : A
    The Cultivator : settled, co-operative, orderly

    Adapts well to dietary and environmental changes
    Immune system preserves and metabolises nutrients more easily

    Sensitive digestive tract
    Vulnerable immune system, open to microbial invasion

    Heart disease


    Liver and gallbladder disorders

    Type I diabetes

    Vegetables, tofu, seafood, grains, beans, legumes, fruit

    Avoid : meat, dairy, kidney beans, lima beans, wheat
    Aids : vegetable oil, soy foods, vegetables, pineapple

    Vitamin B12
    Folic acid

    Vitamin C

    Vitamin E




    Milk Thistle

    Calming, centering exercises eg. Yoga, tai chi

    Blood Type : B
    The Nomad : balanced, flexible, creative

    Strong immune system
    Versatile adaptation to dietary and environmental changes

    Balanced nervous system

    No natural weaknesses, but imbalance causes tendency toward autoimmune breakdowns and rare viruses

    Type I diabetes
    Chronic fatigue syndrome

    Autoimmune disorders - Lou Gehrig's disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis

    Balanced omnivore : meat (no chicken) dairy, grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit Avoid : corn, lentils, peanuts, sesame seeds, buckwheat
    Aids : greens, eggs, venison, liver, licorice, tea




    Moderate physical, with mental balance, such as : hiking, cycling, tennis, swimming

    Blood Type : AB
    The Enigma : rare, charismatic, mysterious

    Designed for modern conditions
    Highly tolerant immune system

    Combines benfits of Type A and Type B

    Sensitive digestive tract
    Tendency for over-tolerant immune system, allowing microbial invasion

    Reacts negatively to A-like and B-like conditions

    Heart disease


    Mixed diet in moderation : Meat, seafood, dairy, tofu, beans, legumes, grains, vegetables, fruit Avoid : red meat, kidney beans, lima beans, seeds, corn, buckwheat
    Aids : tofu, seafood, dairy, greens, kelp, pineapple

    Vitamin C, hawthorn, echinacea, valerian, quercitin, milk thistle Calming, centering exercises eg. Yoga, tai chi
    Combined with : Moderate physical, with mental balance, such as : hiking, cycling, tennis, swimming

    Weird huh??


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