Magazine article Geographical

In the Foodsteps

Magazine article Geographical

In the Foodsteps

Article excerpt

Norman Miller charts a gastronomic journey

Primitive humans probably had something in common with your typical student--when it came to eating, it wasn't so much what do you fancy, as what can you lay your hands on -- with environmental changes and physical and social evolution providing the driving mechanisms for changes in diet. Between two and three million years ago, Australopithecus had a mainly vegetarian diet, though ratios of strontium/calcium in bone finds, and wearing on teeth show that some meat was eaten.

By the time of Homo habilis, wild plant foods were being augmented by a more sophisticated consumption of meat. Hammers made from stones were used to smash bones to obtain the highly nutritous marrow inside. Hunting also played a social as well as dietary purpose, forging bonds while also providing a vital source of food when harsher conditions struck plant stocks. As Homo habilis evolved into Homo erectus the ability to store non-perishable items such as nuts and tubers for the winter made these a growing part of the human diet.

The taming of fire which allowed food to be cooked occurred with the rise of Homo sapiens and coincided with the first evidence of seafood.

This period was the precursor to the advent of agriculture -- commonly dated to around 10,000BC -- a development which went hand in hand with the rise of food-processing techniques such as pounding, grinding and baking.

In the cold climate of Europe, meat consumption also rose to as much as 50 per cent around this time, aided by improvements in hunting technology such as bows and arrows. By 9,000BC, sheep, goats, cattle and pigs were being domesticated, but the cultivation of wheat, barley and legumes meant that meat consumption fell sharply during this period from around 35 per of diet to nearer ten per cent.

Maize, now the third most planted field crop in the world, spread rapidly around the globe after the Spaniards and other Europeans exported the plant from the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries

Evidence exists suggesting wheat first grew in Mesopotamia, and in the Tigres and Euphrates River valleys nearly 10,000 years ago. It was the Egyptians who discovered how to make yeast-levened bread between 2,000 and 3,000BC. The workers who built the pyramids in Egypt were paid in bread

The first written record of soybean is found in Chinese books dating from 2,838BC. The cultivated form was introduced into Korea from North China and into Japan between 200BC and 300AD

It is thought potatoes came from the Andes Mountains, where they were planted between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago by ancestors of the Incas. …

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