Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Fast Food: The Human Diet

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Fast Food: The Human Diet

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A burger and fries may be the quintessential North American meal, but it can also be viewed as the perfect example of humanity's increasingly varied diet, according to researchers who have conducted a unique study of the plants used around the world for food.

In the first-ever study of the "phylogenetic distribution" of the human diet, University of Calgary plant evolutionary ecologist Jana Vamosi, working with a team led by Serban Proches from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, found that humans likely stand alone when it comes to the spectrum of species we consume. Our ability to process food combined with an insatiable hunger for new tastes and international trade systems has also led to food becoming the ultimate product of a globalized society.

"Generally speaking, we eat very broadly from the tree of life," Vamosi says. "Others have looked at the sheer number of plant species we consume, but nobody has ever examined whether the plants we eat are clustered in certain branches. It turns out that they are not."

The researchers examined more than 7,000 plant species commonly eaten by people to determine the origins and evolutionary relationships of the various plants that comprise humankind's menu. In addition to confirming the incredible number of species that are regularly eaten, the researchers found that we chow down on members of a remarkably high number of plant families known to biology.

As a case study, the scientists analyzed the ingredients of a simple fast food meal--a well-known fast-food chain's burger, french fries, and cup of coffee--to illustrate how the average human diet in developed nations is more diverse than ever before. From potatoes that were first domesticated in South America to mustard that was developed in India to onions and wheat that originated in the Middle East to coffee from Ethiopia, they found the meal contained approximately 20 different species and ingredients that originated around the world. Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that the fast-food burger is a symbol of globalization. …

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