Nora Autry…suffered from pellagra, c scourge during the Depression among impoverished Americans whose diet consisted primarily of corn. Pellagra raged in epidemic proportions in the South and Southwest in the 1930s. The disease occurs when a person does not get enough niacin (B3) or tryptophan (an amino acid) in the diet. It can also occur if the body fails to absorb these nutrients. Pellagra is characterized by red, scaly skin sores (dermatitis), diarrhea, inflamed mucous membranes, and mental confusion and delusions. Early stages of pellagra often exhibit as malaise, apathy, weakness, and lassitude. The final phase of the illness is dementia, which can become so severe it mimics schizophrenia, including delusions, hallucinations, and stupor. Then comes organ failure and death. According to epidemiological data collected during the U.S. pellagra epidemic in the 1930s, women, children, and the elderly of both sexes were most commonly stricken with pellagra while infants, adolescents, and working young males were affected least frequently. Medical professionals theorized that the disparity in prevalence resulted from an unbalanced distribution of food within households.The Pellagra epidemic is more than a tragic story, it teaches about societal organization. Households do seem to be the appropriate unit of measurement and not the individual. The strongest, most productive members of the household could have withdrawn and had more resources for themselves but they remained, sacrificing for the household. Other household members sacrificed to protect the households’ current and expected future income. It is unlikely that the strongest members of the household took what they needed, exploiting the weaker members, because the weak like the strong were free to withdraw from the household if their prospects as individuals were better.
Do You See What I See?
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