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Food, Medicine, and the Quest for Good Health

What we eat, how we eat, where we eat, and when we eat are deeply embedded cultural practices. Eating is also related to how we medicate. The multimillion-dollar diet industry offers advice on how to eat for a better body and longer life, and avoiding harmful foods (or choosing healthy ones) is considered separate from consuming medicine--another multimillion-dollar industry. In contrast, most traditional medical systems view food as inseparable from medicine and regard medicinal foods as the front line of healing. Drawing on medical texts and food therapy practices from around the world and throughout history, Nancy N. Chen locates old and new crossovers between food and medicine in different social and cultural contexts. The consumption of spices, sugar, and salt was once linked to specific healing properties, and trade in these commodities transformed not just the political economy of Europe, Asia, and the New World but local tastes and food practices as well. Today's technologies are rapidly changing traditional attitudes toward food, enabling the cultivation of new admixtures, such as nutraceuticals and genetically modified food, that link food to medicine in novel ways. Chen considers these developments against the evolving food regimes of the diet industry in order to build a framework for understanding diet as individual practice, social prescription, and political formation.
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"Nancy N. Chen helps us understand how ideas about food, health, and the body are entwined with and contingent upon prevailing notions of science and philosophical orientation." -- Amy Bentley, New York University "Nancy N. Chen makes the complex and often confusing nexus of food and health understandable. Her book blends millennia-old wisdom with today's best scientific knowledge. It is also a delicious read filled with savory nuggets of uncommon insight." -- Andrew Smith, editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America

Table of Contents

Preface Acknowledgments Introduction/Rethinking Food and Medicine Part One/Food as Medicine 1 Healing Foods and Longevity 2 Dietary Prescriptions Part Two/Medicine as Food 3 Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods 4 Genetically Modified Foods and Drugs Conclusion/Eating and Medicating Notes Bibliography Index

About the Author

Nancy N. Chen is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Scripps College. A medical anthropologist, she also teaches courses on food, gender and health, ethnographic film, China, and Asian Americans.

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