November 27, 2009

Welcome to Black (Cape) Friday at Dateline Earth. Or… get your vampire on! Just don’t buy anything

Print More

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

We’re making it something of a tradition at Dateline Earth to refrain from the consume-a-fest that occurs the day after Thanksgiving. Instead we’ll  remind our friends about Buy Nothing Day, which was conceived just up the road in Vancouver to say — and this was long before the recession — that retail therapy ain’t the way to happiness.

But if we can’t have Black Friday, we’ll have Black Cape Friday. Check it out: I just started reading Tom Standage’s “An Edible History of Humanity,” which already is laying out concepts that will help me understand one of the most important of environmental issues, food.

Maybe it’s that I still have grain on my brain because of our fretting of the other day about what climate change will mean to food supplies. Or maybe it’s that the latest in the “Twilight” movies is out, meaning the vampire-focused among us are beating a path to Forks, Washington, a few hours from Rain City.

In any case, I just have to share this passage, which comes in a chapter in which Standage traces the development of maize — corn — from a plant that wasn’t really very much used as a food source. Yes, be patient, kids — this passage actually is about vampires:

Maize could only become a dietary mainstay with the help of  a further technological twist, since it is deficient in the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, and the vitamin niacin, which are essential elements of a healthy human diet. …

A maize-heavy diet results in pellagra, a nutritional disease characterized by nausea, rough skin, sensitivity to light, and dementia. (Light sensitivity due to pellagra is thought to account for the origin of  European vampire myths, following the introduction of maize into European diets in the seventeenth century.)

He’s not out on a limb here. Even peer-reviewed papers (PDF) discuss this.

Standage goes on to detail how the Aztecs and other maize-based cultures managed to process the corn so it could be the basis of their diet. He writes:

All of this demonstrates that maize is not naturally occurring food at all. Its development has been described by one modern scientist as the most impressive feat of domestication and genetic modification ever undertaken, developed by humans over successive generations to the point where maize was ultimately incapable of surviving on its own in the wild, but could deliver enough food to sustain entire civilizations.

For now, at least.

— Robert McClure

Comments are closed.