If we look back to antiquity, food was so much simpler. It was relatively easy to prepare and easy to eat. We ate what we needed or grew.
A Roman philosopher by the name of Seneca criticises almost 2,000 years ago people’s inclination to wanting to eat food that is rare and exquisite, not only for its taste but because it is expensive and difficult in procuring. On Caesar spending the income from three Roman provinces on one night’s dinner, Seneca writes:
“…if these people would agree to return to good sense, where is the need for all these skills that serve the belly? What need for importing, or laying waste the woodlands, or ransacking the oceans? All around food lies ready which nature has distributed in every place; but men pass it as though blind to it, and they scour every country, they cross the seas, and they whet their appetite at great expense when at little cost they could satisfy it.”
Before we even look into some functional foods or what food can do for us, let’s get some of the boring stuff out of the way first.
This is important though, we need to understand some of the factors that changed our eating habits from function to taste.
This is not an exhaustive list but what I feel to be some of the major factors that changed our food habits.
Food became a product that had to be marketed. We buy based on emotion and impulses – it is easier to cater towards our emotions by catering for taste.
At the end of the day chicken is chicken but what distinguishes it from one place to the next is how it is dressed up.
It was a marketing tactic to add value.
If you take a look at the history of a lot of countries there is usually a divide between the rich and poor.
But as the wealth of the nation increased, we started to see a rise of a middle class.
The people that had good professions that weren’t super rich or weren’t poor. They had access to luxuries that the poor did not. Suddenly there was a group of people that had income to spare that wasn’t being spent on living necessities.
This is also when we started seeing the increase in popularity of washing machines, refrigerators, motor vehicles, paying on credit and so on.
Something else also flourished; the restaurant industry. People could now afford to eat the rare and expensive food normally only for the rich, and dining out became more popular with more and more restaurants popping up.
“Human beings have the capacity to learn to want almost any conceivable material object. Given, then the emergence of a modern industrial culture capable of producing almost anything, the time is ripe for opening the storehouse of infinite need. It’s the modern Pandora’s Box and its plagues are loose upon the world.” – Jules Henry
Industrialisation introduced the ability to produce food on a large scale.
Food was mass prepared, made to last and made to taste good so that it would sell.
It became easier then ever for us to mass produce tasty food that was cost effective.
As the world becomes increasingly smaller through communication and travel technology it became easier for people to share food knowledge. Cultures mixed and they spread their cuisine.
But we forget that a cuisine of a culture and location usually develops as a result of 2 main factors:
- the ingredients available;
- the culture’s lifestyle.
What we forget is that a particular culture or country’s cuisine is developed based upon their needs at the time.
Think about it.
What foods would most people associate to China? It would be noodles or particularly rice. China for a long time had a strong agricultural context of which rice was plentiful. This resulted in rice becoming a staple. With a large workforce working on the land and in the army, this carbohydrate dominated diet became essential to being able to handle long hours tending to the fields.
Look at Northern India. Same thing happened there. Roti with ghee and dhal provided carbohydrates, fats and proteins which were essential again for the huge task of tending to the fields.
This cuisine then becomes tailored to fit into the existing market. It is toned down to make sure the market it is selling in will actually eat it. Portion sizes are reflective of the environment it is sold.
Have you ever had a look at what some Europeans eat?
Take French or German food for instance. It is loaded with fats! You don’t want to know how much butter each croissant has. But you rarely see obese French or Germans (generalising here).
A little while back my sister’s German friends were visiting and over for dinner, and I will never forget them telling us about their shock at seeing a multiple lane drive through fast food outlet.
Okay that’s enough of the theory for now, I really just wanted to make you think a little into why we are the way we are. That way we know how to improve for the future.
Something I apply to all aspects to my life including food is: learn from the past, prepare for the future, live in the present.
What do you think? Do you agree with these factors, do you have any more? Let me know.
The actual food stuff will be coming up on Friday when I talk about what carbohydrates, proteins and fats actually do for us.