But is there a natural human diet? What does our evolutionary history reveal about our dietary adaptations? What do our current morphology and physiology indicate? How do genes and disease influence diet, and vice versa? What role does culture play in defining diet, be it adaptive or not, and are Americans alone in their wayward eating habits, or are other cultures also nutritionally challenged?
This course pursues these questions by reviewing research on the human diet from the fields of primatology, palaeoanthropology, archaeology, paleopathology, cultural anthropology, and nutrition. We begin with overviews of the scientific method, evolutionary theory, and nutrition. Next, we explore the evolutionary roots of our basic dietary adaptations--tooth form and gut morphology--with readings on the behavior and physiology of non-human primates, in particular, the apes, and on the fossil evidence for these adaptations in our own lineage, the Hominidae. Readings from archaeology provide information on the transformation of humans from primarily hunter-gatherers, prior to 12,000 years ago, to agriculturalists, the principal modern subsistence mode. Readings on bone chemistry and also on archaeological evidence of subsistence activities explain how we know what we know about prehistoric diet. Research from the field of paleopathology, the study of disease and injury in prehistoric populations, informs us of the costs and benefits of various subsistence lifestyles as represented by specific prehistoric and historic populations. In exploring the modern human diet, we look to cultural anthropology for perspectives on food and social identity, biosocial responses to famine and surplus, colonialism and modernization, and the role of social movements in dietary change. Lastly, we critically evaluate the claims of several popular contemporary diets (e.g., Atkins) with an eye toward assessing what is, after all, the natural human diet.
Readings will be selected articles from the primary literature including journal articles from the primary scientific literature (primatology, palaeoanthropology, archaeology, nutrition, cultural anthropology), and possibly a few book chapters (primary literature).
Students are responsible for participating in discussions, posting online responses to the weekly reading assignments, and writing a research paper on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor. The writing process will be supervised in steps, from the formulation of the topic and argument, through the writing of one graded draft, and the final graded paper
Reading Reponses and Discussions
Starting on the second day of class, you will submit a response to each meeting's readings, online, using Blackboard (response questions will be provided). Your responses will be visible to everyone in the class and will form the basis for in-class discussions (11% of total grade). Participation in in-class discussion is also graded (11%).