John S. Allen

Oct 23, 2012

The Omnivorous Mind

Our Evolving Relationship to Food

Harvard University Press 2012

purchase at bookshop.org Did Proust have it right? Does food, whether it's a madeleine from an aristocratic childhood or the Velveeta mac-and-cheese my mom used to make, have a special significance for our memory, perhaps even our very being? In his new book, The Omnivorous Mind: Our Evolving Relationship to Food (Harvard University Press, 2012), neuroanthropologist John. S. Allen takes up this question by guiding us into the inner structures of the brain, into the hippocampus and amygdala, where memories and emotions mix and where food plays a surprising role. But Allen's book doesn't just journey into the brain. It travels back in time, to the origins of modern humanity, showing us how our evolutionary past shapes our eating present. Along the way, we learn about the eating habits of Neanderthals and chimpanzees; we discover the benefits of being omnivores and even superomnivores; and we investigate why a food quality as seemingly straightforward as crispiness makes our mouths water. Here's a hint: the exoskeletons of insects might have something to do with our love of Colonel Sanders' extra crispy recipe. Please join us for a discussion of how and why we eat that begins millions of years ago and ends every time we sit down at the table with our 1,400 cc of human brain.

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Eric LeMay is on the creative writing faculty at Ohio University. He is the author of five books, most recently Remember Me. He can be reached at eric@ericlemay.org.

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