The Masai: Introduction
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Those of us in the assortment of fat-and-cholesterol-aren’t-going-to-kill-you communities often invoke the Masai in our arguments, but quite frequently I believe the attention we devote to them is superficial. In this series, I’d like to take a more in-depth view of their diet and risk of disease.
I don’t think we can do this, however, without first understanding their culture and history. Their social organization, their relationship to neighboring trading partners, their experience of annual dry seasons and periodic famines, and their socially and geographically influenced burden of infectious diseases all impact their diet and health status.
I also think we tend to take an androcentric view of the Masai. We emphasize their exclusive diet of meat, blood, and milk — and tea, which we ignore because it is made from plants — even though this exclusive diet is only eaten by males during a certain stage of their life and is never eaten by women. We emphasize their low cholesterol levels but rarely note that women had higher cholesterol levels than men. We emphasize their astonishingly low rate of heart disease, even though the investigators determined this rate almost exclusively in men. I consider this an insult to Masai women that needs to be rectified.
In this series I will thus first cover Masai culture and history, then explore their diet — including the hundreds of plants they have traditionally used — and then culminate by refereeing the “Taylor vs. Mann Showdown.” These last posts will address the historic arguments between George Mann and Bruce Taylor about whether the Masai did indeed have atherosclerosis, and whether they had low cholesterol because of genetics or because of diet and lifestyle.
Links to posts in this series will appear here as they are added:
The Masai Part I: A Glimpse of Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the Loita Masai