October 8, 2007

Columbus Day

Why is American food getting spicier? asks economist/foodie Tyler Cowen.

This is not a short term trend. Spices from the tropics were always a luxury item to medieval Europeans, and now their descendants can afford more of them.

Spicy plants are more common at lower latitudes because spices are anti-parasite poisons evolved to protect the plant from the teeming variety of parasites found more in year-round warm climates than in wintry climates. (Also, biodiversity is greater in the tropics due to more specialization because of milder seasonal swings). Thus, cuisines get blander the farther north you go (as Garrison Keillor's jokes about Norwegian cooking show), in part because there are so few spicy plants growing at latitudes where winter kills off most parasites for them.

Thus, 15th Century Europe's equivalent of the space race of the 20th Century was to find shipping routes, both eastbound and westbound, to the Spice Islands of the East Indies to bring back peppers so that meat could be preserved longer against parasites.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

The fresh peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, etc...I buy in the A&P was worth probably 5 times its weight in gold back in the 1500's. I would have cut a Dutchman's throat and dumped his body overboard in Sumatra for a sack of spices to take back to Spain. Now, a $1.99.

Anonymous said...

"to bring back peppers so that meat could be preserved longer against parasites"

This is a myth, I think. I read somewhere that spice was far too precious to be used as a mere preserver of food. Or maybe this applies only to the Middle Ages proper?

Anonymous said...

It's funny that a site like this has all those google ads for "sexy black women" and "sexy Indian women".

dearieme said...

Except for haggis, of course. Bland it is not.

Ian Lewis said...

Interesting post, but I think that you meant to say that Salt preserves meat, not Pepper.

agnostic said...

Greater predictability of the environment predicts less diversity -- think if nuts only came in one size vs. four sizes, one flourishing in each season. Then birds or whatever that fed on them would only be of one type in the one-nut environment, whereas there would be four types of bird that would show up in the four-nut place, each adapted to a different nut.

There is greater unpredictability in the tropics in another sense (not seasonal swings) -- there is very high turnover rate for lots of growth. If you clear out a small area in Maine, it will take years to grow back, whereas in Mexico it will be there again within months.

The same applies to human evolution: where stability is the rule (despotic regimes like China), people become less varied. In turbulent, innovative Europe, a greater diversity is maintained. That's also one reason why Europeans are more diverse in terms of skin, hair, and eye color than the Chinese (it is linked to behavior, which varies more).

Bill said...

That's also one reason why Europeans are more diverse in terms of skin, hair, and eye color than the Chinese (it is linked to behavior, which varies more).

-agnostic


If you get an eye for it, Chinese look just as diverse as Europeans.

To Chinese, we all look the same. They even say "there's your 'lao xiang' (old lookalike)" when talking to a white person and pointing out another white person.

It's the same thing with age. White folks always say they can't tell how old Asians are, but Asians can't tell how old whites are either. It's because the races age differently, so you've got to look for different cues.

I remember coming back from an extended stay in Asia, seeing a bunch of white people, and thinking that they did, in fact, all look similar. When you're around Asians all the time it's easy to tell them apart, even based on hair and eye color; shades of brown and black vary more than you'd think.

Steve Sailer said...

Check out Edward O. Wilson's books on biodiversity. The reason Wilson is so hot to save the rain forest is because the rain forest is full of a zillion species of bugs, which have been Wilson's favorite things in the whole world since he was a boy. The temperature is very stable, so beetles, of which God is said to be inordinately fond, specialize to an incredible degree. You have beetles that live only on, say, mahogany trees, and one species lives on the trunk and another on the branches. So they constantly speciate into new creatures with different hard-coding programs, so they eventually can't mate anymore. In contrast, it a seasonal climate, you need all-around animals that can survive winter and summer, so they cover a huge range since differences in latitude and altitude aren't all that much compared to summer vs. winter, and stay fertile with each other.

Steve Sailer said...

Bill,

Thanks, you can see that just watching, say, "Seven Samurai." For the first half hour it's very confusing because all the characters look alike, but after an hour they all look highly different.

I suspect that the Japanese may be more facially varied than the Chinese, though, although I'm not sure why.

Anonymous said...

Could that bit about the Japanese possibly be due to some founder effect plus intermarrying with the ainu?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 10/08/2007 2:34 PM said...

It's funny that a site like this has all those google ads for "sexy black women" and "sexy Indian women".

Really? Why is it funny?

Sammler said...

Mr. Sailer: Rather than say that Mr. Keillor's jokes "show" the blandless of northern cuisine, you might better say that they "reflect" it. This is a small difference, but careless statements like this one give your opponents more cause to dismiss you out of hand.

Svigor said...

Agnostic, what Steve's trying to say is that harsher climes create diversity bottlenecks, where only the strongest survive.

Where survival is easier, diversity flourishes because Ma Nature's like, "whateva."

Bill said...

I suspect that the Japanese may be more facially varied than the Chinese, though, although I'm not sure why.

-Steve Sailer


I'm not sure about this either, but I suspect this perception might be tied to the fact that more Japanese than Chinese have prominent mid-facial features, which are more familiar to European eyes.

Chinese diversity, when you're in the thick of it, is really quite amazing. With a trained eye you can pick out what region they are from, and every now and then I'd totally surprise some Chinese by guessing their family's geographical origin (their first thought was usually that some aspect of their speech or manner gave them away -- Chinese are very sensitive, and often embarrassed, about culture and dialect differences).

There is even a sort of folk physiognomy that Chinese people take for granted. Girls with a "moon face" are said to be very sweet and good wives. Men with big, round eyes are fierce and brave. Thin eyes mean clever and scheming, and so on. I'm no expert on this, but I did know a girl whose father was in the Peking Opera, so I learned a bit about it from the exaggerated make-up they wore for performances.

As for the racial diversity of China, there are some things you have to see to believe. Maybe when I have a bit of time I'll outline some of the unexpected encounters I had in certain far-flung regions, but for now I'll just say that Americans have a pretty narrow perspective on Chinese people, and that's most likely because something like 90% of the Chinese (might be less now) here come from a couple of southern provinces.

Anonymous said...

I think it was a Thai or maybe a Burmese who said of Mao, "A typical big Chinese..." (I think. I'll try and find the reference. If anyone cares to look it is in the book "Modern Times" by Paul Johnson. But I don't have it at work(I've got TPS reports though.)

Bill said...

Here, check out this picture of Chinese special forces soldiers:

Chinese soldier

Look at the guy on the left. Doesn't look too Chinese, does he? I know the type, and he isn't a Uighur -- not dark enough. He's probably from the NE, where a lot of people have more European-looking features (Chinese have only been settling there in large numbers in the last 100 years). Some of them even lack the typical Asian skin pigmentation, and some have green eyes.

Here's a profile (artwork) of a Manchurian woman:

Manchu lady

I ran into people like this from time to time. At first I was surprised, but they were nothing special compared to some of the types I saw in the mountains in Central China.

Anonymous said...

"He's probably from the NE, where a lot of people have more European-looking features (Chinese have only been settling there in large numbers in the last 100 years). Some of them even lack the typical Asian skin pigmentation, and some have green eyes."

Obviously, bill, there was some outbreeding among this group at some point. I'd look to the Russians as the culprits. Still, European-looking or no, I'd hate to mate with one of these guys for fear of producing a son who didn't have a sufficiently large proboscus.

Bill said...

Obviously, bill, there was some outbreeding among this group at some point. I'd look to the Russians as the culprits.

-Anon


That's what I thought at first, too, but actually what people don't realize is that NE China (Manchuria) is on the eastern end of the steppe superhighway of the ancient world, which has been traversed by nomads for thousands of years (probably tens of thousands). Altaic peoples also form a sort of continuum along a racial spectrum between Europeans and East Asians. Many pure Manchurians have a distinctive look that is neither typically European nor East Asian, but contains features of both. The thin convex nose (although small), pink skin, and light eyes tend to make them stand out from Chinese.

Emperor Kang Xi, a pure Manchu from the early Qing dynasty, provides a good example (this is a computer generated composite of 50 portraits of him):

Kang Xi

Still, European-looking or no, I'd hate to mate with one of these guys for fear of producing a son who didn't have a sufficiently large proboscus.

lol. There are probably other good reasons not to as well. People from that area are really rough and can be quite brutal. The elegantly cultivated, civilized southern Chinese have both a historical and very real personal fear of northerners. That's why kung fu flicks crack me up. Some little guy from Hong Kong dancing around doing acrobatics just doesn't seem too impressive when you've seen a gang of big, northern Chinese beat someone down with clubs in plain view on the street -- no kung fu necessary.

Even so, they're my favorite Chinese. I'd rather drink beer and eat heaping bowls of noodles and meatballs with rough folks from up there than eat rice out of tiny bowls and sip tea all day with oily, scheming little tradesmen from south of the Yangtze.