What is in the Kitchen?

An Evolutionary and Global Perspective on Food and Diet
Professor Janet Monge

This course is co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, located at 33rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia. The entrance for the course is at the east end of the building, next to the garage.


  1. Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - Introduction to the "Evolutionary Diet"
    The diversity of diet across evolutionary time and over the expanse of the globe today highlights the range of tolerated and consumed foods that characterize humans as a species.
  2. Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - Popular Evolutionary Diets
    Paleo Diet Craze. This topic area has been invaded by a plethora of books that feed, often times, into the popular 'diet craze' that exists in our weight conscious society.
  3. Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - Generalized Omnivory as part of our Primate Ancestry
    Primates appear to be generalized feeders responding to food availability opportunistically and when seasonally available including animal source foods. Omnivory refers to the general trophic level within the foodweb, and not to particular foods which are consumed by animals on this level.
  4. Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - Our Gatherer-Hunter Ancestors and the transition to Agriculture
    The origins of agriculture, in many geographic areas of both the Old and the New World, altered the course of human diet and evolution forever.
  5. Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - How we Study and Analyze the Diets of our Ancestors
    Topics include evidence for food preparation techniques like cooking, isotopic analyses of bone, and the study of the dentition of our ancestors.
  6. Tuesday, November 6, 2012 - Diet, Food, and the Globalized World.
    It is becoming increasingly clear that much variation is contained within the genome of our species. More importantly, from the perspective of diet, is that many of these gene changes are the result of recent adaptations that occurred since the origin of agriculture and thus extend into the not so distant past.

This course addresses the issue of what constitutes an optimal diet for humans using an evolutionary and adaptive perspective.  Diet-crazed Americans often look for insights into good diets constructed on this evolutionary perspective but the actual evidence is difficult to assess.  The question, simply addressed is this:  Can an understanding of the diet of our ancestors give us insights into modern diets and the adequacy of these diets for the maintenance of long term health?


Recommended reading:

NeanderThin: Eat Like a Caveman to Achieve a Lean, Strong, Healthy Body. By R. Audette and T. Gilchrist. St. Martin's Press, 1999.

The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution. By G. Cochran and H. Harpending. Basic Books, 2009.

The PaleoDiet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat. By L. Cordain. John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

The PaleoDiet for Athletes: A Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance. By L. Cordain and J. Friel. Rodale, 2005.

The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging. By A. De Vany. Rodale, 2010.

Meat: A Natural Symbol. By N. Fiddes. Routledge, 1991.

Meat-Eating and Human Evolution. By D.B. Stanford and H.T. Bunn. Oxford University Press, 2001.

The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. By R. Wolf. Victory Belt Publishing, 2010.

Good to Eat: Riddle of Food and Culture. By M. Harris. Waveland Press, 1985.




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