Letters to the Museum

Blacks and Watermelons Stereotype

I wonder if the stereotype, and the consequent racist association, of blacks with watermelon, came from simple human physiology.

Manual work in hot climates causes loss of sodium and potassium, and some magnesium -- and of course, water. Watermelon is almost devoid of sodium, but replenishes extensive amount of the other minerals and water. The water content of a serving of watermelon (above) is essentially one cup (watermelon is 96% water.) It is relatively low in sugar.

graph

Dietary sodium is generally plentiful, and was likely available in the Southern workers' diet. However, acute sodium depletion with free access to water (hyponatremia) can cause symptoms of weakness, as well as headaches! The "home remedy" of pickle juice for headaches is unhealthy nowadays -- but excellent in treating the acute headaches of hyponatremia! (and pickle juice is a well-known folk treatment for headaches.)

I happened across this by accident -- interested in the traditional New Mexico ranchers' foods, and how they contribute to obesity when continued in a much more sedentary environment.

Keep up the good, but ghastly work, on the Jim Crow project.

Sincerely,

Dr. Steve Vaughn
Albuquerque, New Mexico

-- Oct. 22, 2008


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