Monday, February 19, 2007

Look who's coming for dinner!

I know it’s fashionable to assert that there is no scientific basis for “race” and indeed you can define race in a way that makes it true, but the idea is a political one and designed to stifle discussions of population genetics in the same way as discussions and scientific investigations of human gender differences has been stifled in the interest of promoting gender equality and attempting to avoid discrimination. It’s the politics of “you can’t handle the truth” and it’s the argument that says, don’t believe your eyes, believe what we tell you. Sometimes the only way this can be discussed is through humor as when Stephen Colbert declares “I don’t see race” when of course, we can’t avoid it.

We see family resemblance because families tend to have more similar inherited features than they share with the total world population. Likewise populations that have been isolated for a great deal of time share an extended family resemblance. Recognizing this has nothing to do with racism which is about postulating that these relatively minor things constitute some sort of hierarchy in the abilities, worth and human rights of various populations.

Of course the criteria by which some people assign an individual to one race or another is subjective and not very scientific; there is a great deal of genetic variation amongst people we commonly and erroneously lump into one group and that’s because we can only see genetic variations that determine external morphology. There is a great deal below the surface and that gets to the point of all this. It’s possible that there are two unrecognized and invisible races of mankind and the only way we can tell them apart is to see whether they can taste things like a bitter synthetic compound called phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC. Some can detect it and some can’t and to those that do, like me, it tastes absolutely awful.

This has been known for 75 years but recently, the gene responsible for making me hate Brussels sprouts was isolated. An article in Science Daily postulates that this gene once served to keep our hirsute ancestors from eating poisonous fruits and vegetables: like Brussels sprouts, spinach and all that other foul smelling, evil tasting green stuff my mother tried in vain to get me to eat. Like many lethal plants, these dreadful items are rich in bitter alkaloids and many alkaloids are deadly. It’s a truly sad thing that I cannot hold these facts up to my mother as vindication: to prove that it was a token of my ability and not of my obstinacy that ruined so many dinners.

Now I don’t want to insinuate that we of the taster race are superior to those who lack the ability, but then we do have an ability that they lack – who knows what else they lack? And look at what those people eat! Would you really want one moving in next door and cooking their nauseating foods or want your daughter to bring one home for dinner?


Dave said...

Come now, mothers never admit to anything.

On a more serious note, that is really interesting. I had no idea that there were two types of "tasters."

So basically, were we to have lived in a much more ancient setting, there would be those who refused to eat spinach, and thats about it, because all others would eventually be dead because they lacked the ability to differentiate poisonous vegetation from benign?

I wonder how we started eating crops like brussel sprouts in the first place?

Chris said...

Don't much care for beans, neither.

d nova said...

r u saying u n ur ma r not same race?

i never much liked them lil cabbages either, n my ma loved 'em 2.

but seriously, i njoyed this post. one quibble tho. (if i didn't quibble u wdn't recognize me, wd u?)

i disagree on what racism is about. it's about fear. it's a phobia, meaning the fear is based on learned association w/ something threatening.

"postulating that these relatively minor things constitute some sort of hierarchy in the abilities, worth and human rights of various populations" is a rationalization race phobes do 2 alter reality 2 make it more acceptable 2 their frightened egos.

it's a gud way 2 say it 2. thanx.

Capt. Fogg said...

There may be even more genetic variation in taste - I don't know - but to me things that might taste bitter to some taste like drain opener to me.

My parents never ate that stuff either - they just tried to make me eat it.