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"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.