“We are what we eat: our hair, skin, fingernails, cells and organs, everything that our organic being is composed from is born out of the fuel of life that we provide it. If you eat a chocolate at two o’clock in the afternoon, at five your body will be a little more of chocolate”.
The history of food started in the longest human history, prehistory. The planet was covered by hunter gatherers, nomadic groups who hunted and gathered during the day meat, vegetables and fruits, so at night they could have big meals to compensate for a long day of infra-feeding. Although evolution doesn’t stop, we had a life style marked by periods of micro-fasting, constant movement and a big variety of meals until so little ago in evolutionary time, that our body is still very close to the hunter gatherers one.
Then, one day, man got to know the allies that would emerge him into one of the most determinant revolutions in history. The dog was already living with man, but animals gradually got domesticated and helped propel agriculture and cattle rearing; cereals, bread and of course, beer started to share our table.
With the neolithic revolution human beings started to live a more sedentary way of life and with that came the specialization of labor: men were obtaining every day bread and women were devoting themselves to the works at the village. It was women who had time and necesity: who but herself would have domesticated the animals and explore the secrets and uses of fire to create tools, to cook and to build recipients, that is to say the origin of technology?
With the use of the mysteries of the moon and the sky, ancient civilizations knew a new bonanza that took them to the creation of rites and customs about feeding, agricultural holidays as the Sabbats that were celebrated in the solstices and equinoxes of the year. We were starting to realize that there was something more powerful than us. Hence, religion arose.
From this moment on, it was only a matter of time for society to create a culture around food. For example, in Rome the rich ones had the habit of eating while lying in bed, since eating in a seated position was proper only for the poor people. Fortunate people would eat up to five times in a day, consuming exotic, exquisite and international food, from Mediterranean eel to Thracian deer. Also Rome, the biggest empire of antiquity, obsessed with the delight of food and with a hectic life, would see the birth of the hamburger.
With food rituals came the study of its benefits and properties. Hippocrates spoke about four humors (something like fluids) that exist in the body and that, when imbalanced, invite illness. Cookbooks started to appear with compilations on the study of dietetics, a discipline similar to the uses of food in the East, where it is necessary to look for a point of equilibre between several states to satisfy the self, where the diet is not something temporal but a lifestyle that looks to find the best combination of foods that expreses our individuality and align the body with our ideas, spirituality, projects, aspirations and feelings. The way of dietetics was neither a load nor an obligation, a task or a suffering, but a space of creativity and exploration where the result was the knowledge of oneself, not to follow an instructions manual.
Rome fell down and with it Europe entered darkness. The Middle Age created things like the Constitution, but in the nutrition field the austerity of the religious, rural and warlike society of the epoch led to the idea that to eat well was a cardinal sin. Nevertheless, Islam would preserve the Roman tradition and share it later with the world as a magnificent gift. They kept Aristotle’s texts and developed the Hippocrates knowledge with alchemy, adorning their table with spices from China and corn from America. Did you know that eating three times a day is a tradition that comes from Islam?
The world would get dirty with the blood of two world wars and with it would come the perversion of the ancient knowledge of dietetics. In the United States a campaign arose with the goal of ration the best food for men at the front. Meat, milk and full fat products, all with a caloric surplus but vital, were prohibited for women who were employed at the factories. The instrument? The use of propaganda for slim diets. Women’s health and self-esteem, all of her vitality, longevity and fuel of life were replaced by propaganda figures like Betty Boop, giving birth to the ideal of the thin woman who only consumes salads, soybeans and fat free products.
From here on, todays world has anorexia, bulimia and overweight public health problems; paleolithic and vegan diets; and also debates on transgenics, liquid and organic food. In the mid of these debates, humans beings are in the search for their alimentary nature.
If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Jaime Borja and Harvey Levenstein
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