A Brief History of Food

Fruit, nuts, fish, and bugs: From all I can gather, this was the diet of the earliest humans. Depending on where they were, they also found vegetables and meat. Grains and legumes round out the diet of prehistoric man. It seems their idea of food wasn’t all that different from ours. And to be clear, there are still plenty of places where bugs are on the menu.


Foodtimeline.org provides a… well… food timeline. It gives an approximation of what foods might have been available at various points in history going all the way back to prehistory. That makes accuracy a bit of a stretch. But at least it gives us a 10,000’ view. From that view, we see that two things have heavily influenced our diet: culture and capability.


Food that grows on trees

It makes sense that the very earliest humans ate food that grew on trees. They needed neither tools nor fire for hunting and cooking. They didn’t have dietitians, or nutritionists, or master chefs, or banana pudding. They had what was near to hand. They went from gathering to growing by about 10,000 BCE.


Some of the reasons early humans started growing their own food still apply today. They wanted to take control over their food cycle. And they wanted to be sure that what they ate wouldn’t kill them. There is something empowering about needing some tomatoes for a recipe, going outside, and picking a few from your own vines. Want to make an apple pie? No need to make a run for the store. Just reach your hand out the window.


The Willis Orchard Company offers a third reason for growing your own:


As a society, we have all become so accustomed to finding our fruit – any fruit, all fruit, regardless of the season – at our local supermarkets. When we taste what is possible from our own land, a whole word of flavor instantly becomes available to us.


Willis Orchards’ fruit trees can be shipped right to your door for planting. You can grow your own food knowing that it is organically grown and safe from pesticides. Also, you will know that it will taste delicious.


Food for the fun of it

By the 5th century BCE, we had advanced beyond hunting, gathering, and growing for mere survival. By then, there were plentiful sources and varieties of food for people with resources. The most honored skill was no longer finding food, but preparing it for consumption.


No longer were the upper classes eating to live. They had discovered the joys of living to eat. Food was no longer a mere necessity, but entertainment, even competition. Around the 1st Century, we see an explosion of recipes and combinations that will feel very familiar.


Another shift in food occurred when we increased our ability to process it to within an inch of its life. As the centuries ticked by, we learned to purée and pasteurize, Our technology advanced so that we were able to cook with convection and microwaves. At some point, it started to feel as if we were just playing with our food out of curiosity and boredom. We didn’t notice our waste lines expanding, or the precipitous rise of diabetes in the places where food was most bountiful.


Eating to live

As food became ever more convenient, it also became more deadly. In 2003, McDonald’s started offering a line of healthy salads. Supermarket shelves were loaded down with packages marked:

  • Low fat
  • Reduced sugar
  • No sugar added
  • Low sodium
  • No MSG


This radical shift towards healthier eating was still not entirely good news. We still had an unhealthy relationship with food. We went from taking food for granted and playing with it, to being fearful of it. For the most part, we’re still there.


At present, there are so many voices offering so much advice about diet and nutrition, it is hard to separate the signal from the noise. Perhaps it is time we come full-circle, and return to our roots to rediscover what food has to offer. Perhaps there is something to fruit, nuts, fish, a bit of meat, vegetables, legumes, and yes, maybe even the occasional bug. Bon appétit.

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