Re: nutrition in the field

Harriet Whitehead (whitehea@WSUNIX.WSU.EDU)
Sun, 9 Apr 1995 08:35:46 -0700

Rob raises some excellent questions. I found that in the Central
Mountains of New Guinea food was the single biggest cultural obsession
and the factor most frequently misunderstood by visiting (western)
foreigners. You should indeed go well stocked with food items that you
can share, whether or not they are things you yourself believe in back
home. In many areas of New Guinea there will be some - and often much -
fat and protien deficiency, thus tinned meats and fishes packed in by the
researcher become items of intense interest. I found that my packing in
of a personal stock of these meats, and my willingness to share a modest
dinner of same (one large can + lots of rice fed 4-6 adults every
evening) every evening carved for me a comfortable place in the local
system of reciprocities. I was generous with food. They were generous
with food. We each thought well of each other as a result.

As for whether you're going to lose weight, I'm guessing many of us will
be happy to seize the opportunity! I found I typically lose 15 lb in New
Guinea no matter how much oil-soaked tinned mackerel I absorb out in the
village. Monotony of diet is the single best diet aid (outside of
nicotine) ever devised. Bigger weight losses follow in the wake of
picking up the local intestinal parasites. That I don't recommend,
needless to say. Boil that water!

Harriet Whitehead
Anthro, WSU

On Sat, 8 Apr 1995, Rob Quinlan wrote:

> I think the question of nutrition in the field is a good one. I
> personally lost over 20 lbs. in one short 2 month field trip (and
> I was pretty slender to begin with). How do people deal with this
> problem? What do people do when important items of the local diet
> are too disgusting to one's palette or when one is unaccustomed to
> eating large enough quantities of carbohydrates to maintain normal
> levels of caloric intake? I also see a serious rapport problem w/
> going into a site w/out provisions or the means to obtain them.
> Seems to me an anthro who shows up w/out food would be perceived as
> a mooch. One can't possibly expect to jump right into food sharing
> situations right off the bat. Of course, this problem is different
> in different sites. I'd be really interested to hear other people's
> experiences in this regard.
> Chagnon talks about this both in _Yanomamo_ and _Studying the Yanomamo_.
> Maybury-Lewis talks about it in _Savage & the innocent_ where he and
> his family worked w/ the Sherente and Shavante. Basso talks about it
> in her Kalapalo ethnography. Chagnon lost lots of weight and ate
> peanut butter and honey with strong coffee once per day and made a big
> meal for himself once a week. Maybury-Lewis periodically bought a cow
> to share with the village and commissioned women to make large quantities
> of manioc flour for his family and him. Basso brought some food with
> her that she ended up having to share with the household she lived in.
> Marsha and I made periodic trips to the nearest town to buy some supplements,
> which we shared with the rest of the household we were living with. And
> once we bought a whole goat for a feast, but when it came time to eat we
> only got a portion of spine! (We haven't yet figured out why, perhaps they
> thought one part was as good as the next, or maybe it was for some other
> reciprocal exchange where our hosts thought we were stingy.)
> Rob Quinlan