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Food History

We humans not only need to eat, we like to eat! A wide variety of foods have kept us healthy, beginning with raw wild foods and continuing through many kinds of cuisine. What we eat has varied over historical eras, and choice of food also changes among cultures.

Culinary history began when humans learned to hunt and gather many locally and seasonally available foods, such as game animals, fish, wild rice, nuts, and berries. Food supplies improved with food preservation methods, such as drying, to carry families through winter and other lean times. Domestication of grains and other crops led to permanent settlements sustained by agriculture. Domestication of animals led to a stable supply of meat for food and hides for clothing. Animals like oxen andhorses also pulled plows and farm wagons.

Historically, cooking helped preserve food and made some indigestible raw ingredients palatable. Special kinds of cooking, such as baking, are historically important and became skilled occupations by the Middle Ages. Vintage cooking created meals of locally available ingredients, but when possible, spices were added for zest. The spice trade was so lucrative that caravans journeyed to Asia by land from Europe, giving Columbus an incentive to explore a sea route to the Spice Islands. Instead, the New World brought new foods to Europe, incuding maize, potatoes, and maple sugar.

Pictures of historical dining situations vary from outdoor meals to manor-hall feasts. Favorite drinks through history have included wine and other spirits as well as tea and coffee, consumed with or without meals.

Pictures of food markets have gradually replaced food growing, as a result of urbanization replacing rural lifestyles. By the 19th century a wide variety of food was available from around the world, seen in pictures of tropical plantations or seaports loading fruit on cargo ships. Coffee, tea, and cocoa are popular drinks in cold climates where they can't be grown, making shipping an important part of getting food and drink to the table.


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