Our journey with food had a tumultuous start with our progenitors being banished from paradise for eating the forbidden fruit. Since then, food has been predominant in our existence, evolving with the evolution of humanity. The biological progression of human bodies and the development of our brains commenced with the discovery of food and progressed with the gradual expansion of our food sources. From humble beginnings to the ‘Last Supper’, food has been all pervasive in our story of life.
Paralleling our course of evolution food not only provided us the required push, crucial to take over other primates but also became a constant motivator in shaping our future towards modernity. It has
emerged as one of the pivotal benchmarks exhibiting the success of mankind and continues to be a powerful denominator in measuring the development of nations.
Historically, food played a foundational role in the transition of our ancestors from gatherers to scavengers and hunters, forming the basis of many pertinent inventions crucial for our survival. The creation of tools from primitive flints to complex spears, bows and arrow, originated as more substantial food sources were required. In addition, these tools enhanced our hunting prowess, facilitated the colder inhabitation regions, where plant food was scarce. The domestication of animals and the use of fire for cooking changed our eating experiences and were decisive for our evolution. The emergence of settled-civilized life started with the discovery of agriculture and the eventual thriving of population was also fueled by this, primeval desire. Food was also a catalyst in the exploration of trade routes leading to colonizing many new lands that changed the history of the world for ever.
Food has been ubiquitous in many technological advances related to the storage of surplus food. Pottery, one of the oldest inventions known to man originated to store food and for cooking. Much later techniques such as pickling, pasteurizing, canning, freezing occurred, changing our relationship with food forever. The humble revolution refrigeratorized our urban living, from simple wooden insulated ice boxes to modern day high-tech machines, prompting increased stockpiling of food and reduced cooking time.
Primarily, our obsession with food was no different from other living beings but gradually it began to be used as a symbol of prosperity and wealth. In the past, upper-class Romans regularly indulged in bizarre eating habits, gorging on lavish feasts for hours only to initiate vomit by tickling their throats using a feather and continued their eating spree. In recent times, food has spilled beyond meal times making our encounters with food more frequently. Super markets are glutted with food choices from genetically modified fruits and vegetables, to ultra-processed, frozen, instant, vegan and organic food, complicated further with umpteen varieties even in simple foods like milk, cheese and chips, aiding our obsession. Furthermore, the boom in the eating out culture and the ever expanding food industry elucidate the surpassing of food from a primal urge to a source of gratification and entertainment.
Unfortunately, our struggles with our oldest companion are still not resolved. Our incompetence in handling both abundance and lack of food continues to pose serious dangers. Globally, eleven people die of hunger every minute (Oxfam,2020) while 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year, the simultaneous existence of hunger and food waste is the biggest challenge humanity faces today. Our constant exposure to pandemics due to wrong food choices and rise in food induced eating disorders expose our failure to tackle food.
The need to eat will always remain, food will always take priority especially when our populations are expanding rapidly. Perhaps, it’s time for FOOD FOR THOUGHT….LITERALLY.
Dr. Harleen Shergill is a Ph.D. in Economics and works as a freelance writer and researcher.