Sunday, January 30, 2005

Eat to live…. Or live to eat..

My half-cousin Jeanie (we had the same grandpa) is a very intelligent and perceptive person. We only met a couple of years ago via the Internet. I was not even aware she existed until she and my sister happened to connect on a genealogy Website. She is an anthropologist, did field work in Papua New Guinea (, and was a college professor until she retired a few years ago. We have exchanged many e-mails, and I have had the pleasure of meeting her twice, the last time in November when she came to meet my father and his sister for the first time.

In one of the fascinating conversations we had during the week we spent together in Los Angeles, she was talking about the differences in the attitude toward food between the US and PNG. She says the isolated villagers in the interior of PNG have a very boring diet, consisting of yams, manioc, various dark green vegetables and fruits, no grains, certain grub-type insects, and little meat. If I remember correctly from my own anthropology classes in college, pigs do play an important role in the social life of the rural people but are eaten only occasionally at ceremonies and such. At any rate, the people eat only to survive, not for the sensual pleasure of it. And, not surprising, although they have pot bellies because of the large amount of fiber they must consume, they don’t overeat. And as a result, there is little obesity, and very few of the food-related illness that plague Westerners, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. The women don’t get osteoporosis, the girls hit puberty very late (sometimes not until they are 18). Course they may have other diet-related health problems because of low protein (anemia, and so forth), but at least they aren’t fat. Along with that, they must work very hard to survive. Very strenuous physical activity is part of everyday life – especially the women..

And then there’s us. We, on the other hand, live to eat. We live for the sensual pleasure of consuming food – far more food than we need. That coupled with our general lack of physical exercise has meant…. well, just LOOK at us. No. On second, thought, let’s don’t.

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