Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Twinkies for Peace

December 23rd, 2009 · 10 Comments

Staying on the food-taboo theme, we recommend this recent paper from the eternally irresistible Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. The whole thing is worth a read, especially the authors’ various theories regarding why taboos exist. Our favorite nugget comes in the section dedicated to explaining why taboos may have formed to protect human health:

Eating to regulate emotions has been listed as one of the five classes of “emotion-induced changes of eating” by Macht and IgE-mediated atopic diseases are known to be associated with depression and suicide rate. An increase of unsaturated fatty acids in the diet has been found to be correlated with decreased violent behaviour and an exposure to sunflower seeds and colorants derived from the fungus Monascus ruber can cause asthma attacks. Finally, low glycaemic meals have been reported to improve memory and ability to sustain attention, features that might not have gone unnoticed by our forebears in earlier times and could have led to the avoidance or recommendation not to consume certain food items.

As you can tell by our bolding, it’s the bit about fatty acids that struck a chord with us. If our species is, indeed, hard-wired to favor unsaturated fatty acids as a means of increasing social cohesion, that might go a long way toward explaining some recent trends. Keep in mind that food scientists only recently discovered that unsaturated fatty acids could be made more shelf stable by partially hydrogenating them—a process that results in tasty foods that wreak havoc on our internal circuitry. Instinctively drawn toward these foods, then, our waistlines expand as our crime rate declines.

So perhaps more policing and tougher sentencing isn’t the solution to violent crime. A carpet bombing of Little Debbie products may do the trick much more efficiently.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Brian Moore

    Is it that the are chemicals in the twinkies that make us less violent, or that after eating so many twinkies the extra weight increases the amount of effort it takes to commit violent actions?

    Just as an aside, have you read “The Obesity Myth” by Paul Campos? It’s a few years old, but in the field of “expanding waistlines” I highly recommend it.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Brian Moore: From reading the abstract of the referred paper, I got the sense that the authors were arguing for a neurochemical reason. Which makes sense–it wasn’t until the advent of partial hydrogenation that unsaturated fatty acids became truly bad for us.

    Wasn’t familiar with the Campos book–thanks for the rec. Though he’ll have to go a long way toward convincing me that we’re not an overly portly nation. The Good Morning Burger is sadly all-too-plausible:

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/35047/the-simpsons-jolly-fat-man

  • Captured Shadow

    Hey I forgot to say the Popeye’s ad was great.

    The article mentioned food taboos being a source of group cohesion, and I am sure it is. I wonder, is there a pattern of cult leaders imposing certain dietary restrictions?

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Good question. I’ll have a post about that next week–stay tuned.

  • Gramsci

    I still think there is a heavy symbolic element to taboo foods, as Mary Douglas’s work helpfully pointed out. Shellfish are “low-glycemic,” after all, but they were creepy-crawly, hard-to-categorize and so buh-bye shrimp on matzah.

  • Jordan

    Behold the power of snack cakes:

    http://www.superstupor.com/sust01042008.shtml

  • Captured Shadow

    I think the Harvey Milk murder case used the power of Twinkies as part of the defense……

    A snack food with a built in murder defense is a pretty powerful marketing angle

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: I found that comic oddly touching. Evil masterminds need love, too…

  • Brian Moore

    Brendan: “Though he’ll have to go a long way toward convincing me that we’re not an overly portly nation”

    Sorry, slow response here… he’s doesn’t so much try to convince the reader that we’re not fat, just more that fat itself is not particularly unhealthy — as opposed to inactivity and poor diet.

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