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The Omnivorous Mind

Our Evolving Relationship With Food
Allen, John S., 1961- (Book - 2012 )
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The Omnivorous Mind
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Harvard University Press

In this gustatory tour of human history, John S. Allen demonstrates that the everyday activity of eating offers deep insights into human beings’ biological and cultural heritage.

We humans eat a wide array of plants and animals, but unlike other omnivores we eat with our minds as much as our stomachs. This thoughtful relationship with food is part of what makes us a unique species, and makes culinary cultures diverse. Not even our closest primate relatives think about food in the way Homo sapiens does. We are superomnivores whose palates reflect the natural history of our species.

Drawing on the work of food historians and chefs, anthropologists and neuroscientists, Allen starts out with the diets of our earliest ancestors, explores cooking’s role in our evolving brain, and moves on to the preoccupations of contemporary foodies. The Omnivorous Mind delivers insights into food aversions and cravings, our compulsive need to label foods as good or bad, dietary deviation from “healthy” food pyramids, and cross-cultural attitudes toward eating (with the French, bien sûr, exemplifying the pursuit of gastronomic pleasure).

To explain, for example, the worldwide popularity of crispy foods, Allen considers first the food habits of our insect-eating relatives. He also suggests that the sound of crunch may stave off dietary boredom by adding variety to sensory experience. Or perhaps fried foods, which we think of as bad for us, interject a frisson of illicit pleasure. When it comes to eating, Allen shows, there’s no one way to account for taste.


In this gustatory tour of human history, Allen suggests that the everyday activity of eating offers deep insights into our cultural and biological heritage. Beginning with the diets of our earliest ancestors, he explores eating’s role in our evolving brain before considering our contemporary dinner plates and the preoccupations of foodies.

Baker & Taylor
Explores how the everyday activity of eating provides deep insights into humanity's cultural and biological heritage, starting with the diets of our earliest ancestors, and examines eating's role in the evolution of the brain.

Book News
Allen, a cognitive research scientist, makes a fascinating case for the way our brains have evolved and develop within our lifetimes in response to food. This is a biocultural exploration of the brain and its relationship to food. He argues that over eons, as we have developed advanced cognitive abilities like language and complex sociality, we have also evolved a "theory of food." To this end, he explores how eating behaviors reveal how our brains work, the biological history of the human diet back to its pre-human origins, food as a privileged object of and representative mechanism for memory, how we categorize food and think about diet, and food-based creativity. A final chapter re-states the case for Allen's theory of food as an analogue to a theory of mind. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Authors: Allen, John S. (John Scott), 1961-
Statement of Responsibility: John S. Allen
Title: The omnivorous mind
our evolving relationship with food
Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2012
Characteristics: 319 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. [273]-301) and index
Subject Headings: Human evolution Brain Evolution Cognition Omnivores Nutrition Psychological aspects Diet Psychological aspects Food habits Psychological aspects Food Psychological aspects
Topical Term: Human evolution
Brain
Cognition
Omnivores
Nutrition
Diet
Food habits
Food
LCCN: 2011047859
ISBN: 0674055721
9780674055728
Branch Call Number: 616.8526 A
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Allen, John S., 1961-
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