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Ethnic Stereotypes and Diet


I love to eat foods of all varieties, from all ethnic areas. It really intrigues me that my energy levels can change drastically depending on what type of meal I eat. Could this contribute to some common ethnic stereotypes the world maintains?

While we can all agree that stereotypes can never apply to every single person in a culture, it also makes sense that there must be *some* trend going on in order for a stereotype to develop. For example, there isn't a stereotype of lazy, sleepy vikings. Vikings are known as robust warriors with a bloodthirsty lust for battle. If you look at their history, there's a reason for that.

Samurai warriors aren't known as lazy or sleepy either. They are known for their obsession with following the code, learning to wield their swords well, liking to slice off heads and study the tea ceremony :) OK I jest a bit, but I did run a feudal Japan group for over 10 years. I know these guys had their good and bad points. My aim here is to point out that they weren't known as the "lazy, sleepy guys".

However, some cultures ARE known as laid back, sleepy, low energy groups. For example, the Italian and Mexican cultures are often stereotyped as nap-in-the-afternoon, slow moving cultures. As I love both of these food styles, it occurs to me that it can EASILY be explained by the type of food they eat!

Let's take Mexican food. There is of course the debate about what "real" Mexican food entails. I took Spanish for 8 years, so I understand completely that there are many different regions of Mexico each with its own culture. Let's focus, though, on the beans-and-rice-with-tortilla style. These are all heavy, high-carb, high-sugar foods, intended for a hard working person who needs that huge amount of energy to get through their day.

What happens when a person who is NOT a high work laborer eats this massive amount of calories and carbs? First, their body gets a huge energy spike, which is lovely for a half hour or so. Then their blood sugar levels plummet, and their body goes into a super low sugar situation. They run out of energy. I've done this many times - if I have a big burrito lunch, I am ready for a nap about an hour later. It's not that I've suddenly become "lazy". It's a very natural, biological response to the diet I have consumed.

If you combine that low-sugar trough with a super hot afternoon, as you can easily find in Mexico, the two factors combine to make it even worse. Few people can maintain a high workload in sweltering heat. If your body has no energy to begin with, the problem compounds.

A similar situation exists in Italy. Italy - especially southern Italy - can become incredibly hot. Many Italian regions focus their diet on pasta, which is another high carb, high calorie dish. This is perfect for the person working out in the field all day long, who needs that energy to burn. But anybody who does not have that strenuous lifestyle will eat the large plate of pasta get a quick sugar high, and then promptly fall asleep. Their body is doing what comes naturally, given that set of circumstances.

Many cultures evolved their eating styles when they were an extremely hard working, heavy labor society with farmers and laborers. Now that societies have transformed into more sedentary styles, it is probably time for the menus to update to match. Either that, or we need to accept that cultures are not "lazy" - they are simply "over-sugared" and a nap is a natural result.

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