Monday, July 09, 2012

United in studiousness and lactose intolerance

-As someone who both is intermarried and studies intermarriage (the backstory), I read with interest this account of a couple, Helen Kim and Noah Leavitt, who study the very form of intermarriage they're in - Jewish-Asian. Of the seven (mostly) well-known couples of the past half-century mentioned in the story about their marriage and subsequent research, all are Jewish men married to Asian or Asian-American women. 


While the academic paper itself addresses gender, it seems worth noting that the Styles-audience-oriented summary does not. The omission might be read as political correctness - if we don't articulate what's indicated by the data provided, we need not open that particular can of worms. Instead, we learn that Jews and Asians both value education. Leading one to wonder, if we are to accept the 'model minority' label... are Jewish women and Asian men raised in families that value waking up in the late afternoon for a day of pot, video games, and staring at a wall?


My only semi-informed hypothesis is that the somewhat higher rates of intermarriage for Jewish men (as opposed to women) and Asian women (as opposed to men) only partially explain why popular culture has deemed only one variant of Asian-Jewish (hetero) intermarriage a thing. I think it may also relate to popular (and offensive, and false, let's be clear) assumptions that when Asian women or Jewish men marry out - with each other or otherwise - they're somehow moving up in the world. That they've transcended the limitations of their backgrounds and bravely set out to make their own ways. Whereas the corresponding assumption is that when Asian men or Jewish women do so, it's only because they've failed - after trying and trying and trying some more - to snag a mate within the community. For this reason, I suspect that the visibility is not proportional to the reality. But... yeah, this isn't the era or variety of Jewish intermarriage I study, and is based mostly on impressions backed up by Googling around and finding whichever hundreds of blog-commenters have had the same impression, so for deeper analysis, look elsewhere.


-Speaking of Asian-Jewish affinity, Mark Bittman informs us that 90 percent of Asian-Americans and 75 percent of Jewish-Americans are lactose intolerant. Another estimate for Jews (not the first one mentioned) is higher still. I'm reasonably up on the Ashkenazi genetic failings, but I must say I'd ever heard of this. Still, my complete lack of anecdata for Jewish lactose intolerance doesn't mean this isn't ravaging my community, if not my stomach in particular. (I also haven't heard of adults, Jewish or otherwise, drinking several glasses of milk a day, or being encouraged to do so, but maybe this is a regional thing. I figured "Got Milk?" was the dairy industry luring kids away from soda, not adults away from water.) 


What I don't follow about the broader debate about whether we should drink cows' milk (or, by extension, the even broader one about whether any number of commonly- and long-since-eaten foods are intended for human consumption) is the argument that because milk is designed for calves, humans - adults especially - shouldn't be drinking it. Are any naturally-occurring ingredients designed for the express purpose of consumption by human adults? Isn't it all just stuff with some other purpose that we happen to be able to extract nutrients from? Doesn't the fact that cows' milk is intended for calves mean that we, unlike calves, couldn't survive on that alone?

13 comments:

Andrew Stevens said...

One of the silliest arguments I've ever seen is that we are not "designed" to drink cow's milk - the proof being that humanity originally started off lactose intolerant.

Well, it's true that humans started off lactose intolerant. And animal milk was so survival-apt that, in those populations of humans which domesticated dairy animals, lactose intolerance went almost completely extinct. So, if the results of evolution prove anything about whether we should or should not drink cow's milk, it pretty clearly demonstrates the opposite.

Of course, what we really care about is the long-term health advantages of milk vs. no milk and the evolutionary record is simply not relevant to that debate, since evolutionary forces are indifferent to survival past breeding age.

Britta said...

My mother and her partner drink 2-3 small (6 oz-ish) glasses of milk a day, plus milk in coffee for my mother. They don't eat cereal, so I guess that makes up one glass. My father and grandparents drank milk on a daily basis too. I think it's a Scandinavian thing. I drink milk in my coffee daily, and a glass of milk every once in awhile when I think about it. Growing up I had to drink two glasses of milk a day, plus milk on cereal or oatmeal. Scandinavians are one of the few ethnic groups who are quite lactose intolerant, along with East Africans, probably since it was a major nutrient in a place where not a whole lot grows. I feel like milk is either something you can or can't drink, and people shouldn't feel pressure to drink or not drink it. It can be a convenient shortcut for certain nutrients, but there are lots of other easy ways to get the same nutrients. I find the "everyone should eat this diet" annoying, because people's bodies are so variable, I doubt there's a one-size-fits-all perfect human diet. Full fat dairy (milk, butter, cheese, sour cream) and refined carbohydrates were the staples of my grandfather's diet, and he was thin as a rail and died of lung cancer at 92. Someone else on that diet would get diabetes and have a heart attack at 50.

Britta said...

Related to Andrew Stevens's comment, I feel like popular obsession with "long-term health benefits" of foods is the search for the Holy Grail of diets which will effortlessly allow us to live until 130 (and be super attractive doing so). Longevity is very complex and so many factors contribute. Diet is only one part, and again, even if we knew how one's diet affects an individual's aging process, that isn't necessarily applicable to a large population of people. What we do know is humans, like rats, are so successful because we can pretty much survive on anything.

There's a fad of "X group of people live for a long time, so let's eat what they eat," until people get bored with the Mediterranean diet, or the Japanese diet, and move on (or they realize that white rice and pasta isn't helping with weight loss). This is related to your other posts. People want to be thin, so they justify weight loss diets like Atkins as "healthier" or "more natural" than diets they think will make them fat. When people talk about the paleo-diet I find it funny, because seriously doubt paleolithic humans were eating that much red meat. If people were mostly living on tubers and grubs with some meat and berries thrown in, then I would respect their attempts at some sort of historical accuracy.

Andrew Stevens said...

Oops, should have said "largely indifferent." (There are arguments that, in an intelligent, social species like humans, having people who live to advanced ages to impart wisdom to their descendants can aid the survival of their genes, but this can't be a huge effect.)

Britta, not just the Scandinavians - all the Germanic peoples of northern Europe are predominantly lactose tolerant. In fact, ancient Scandinavians apparently weren't, lending credence to the theory that modern Scandinavians are not descended from Stone Age Scandinavians, but from the people who displaced them.

Britta said...

Andrew,

Interesting. I wonder if the Sami are lactose intolerant.

Andrew Stevens said...

I found a link to an article from the Croatian Medical Journal which claims their subpopulations vary between 40% and 75% lactose tolerant, all of which are much lower than the general Swedish population.

Britta said...

Andrew,

Do you have the link?

(Also, petty correction since it seems people figured out what I meant tosay, in my first comment, I wrote "Scandivanvians are quite lactose intolerant" when I meant to write "lactose tolerant.")

Andrew Stevens said...

Sure. Third paragraph in "Genetic risk factors in the Sami," about midway down the page.

Phoebe said...

Huh! Lactose tolerance can now join blond arm hair on the incredibly short list of my Germanic traits. (The third is the compulsion to write incredibly long, but grammatically correct, sentences.)

PG said...

Well, it's true that humans started off lactose intolerant. And animal milk was so survival-apt that, in those populations of humans which domesticated dairy animals, lactose intolerance went almost completely extinct.

I'm embarrassingly ignorant about Hinduism considering that it's my family's religion, but from what I understand, the origin of Hindu veneration of cows is precisely that their milk was so nutritious (and dung such good fertilizer) that the society gradually deemed it sinful to kill such a creature, even aside from the general Hindu distaste for killing. Does anyone know whether goat's milk is wildly different from cow's milk in how good it is for you? I'm not sure why beef is off the menu in India but goat is on.

Britta said...

PG

Hippies think goat's milk is better than cow's milk, for many reasons, I don't know how many of them are scientifically valid. I'm not sure what would make cow's milk obviously better to the point cows would become sacred and goats wouldn't. This was the only not blatantly pro-goat's milk page I could find with minimal searching comparing the two milks:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43672735/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/skinny-milk-nutrition-cow-goat-rice-or-soy/

PG said...

I suppose for observant Hindus (and Buddhists and Jains) who are vegetarians, cow's milk is preferable because it has much more protein. Western hippies who live in an environment with plenty of protein sources may not see the cow's milk's protein to be as much of a plus.

Andrew Stevens said...

It may just have to do with size. A single cow is a small-scale dairy, giving far more milk than one family needs. A family with a couple of goats might still be considered poor - a family with a cow would likely be well-to-do.