A few months ago, there was a list floating about containing the 100 Greatest Moments in Food History. I felt that the top 10 items were sorely lacking in actual historical significance, so I’ve decided to come up with my own list. Feel free to debate and add your own as you see fit.
10. Television: Everything from Julia Child to children’s television ads affects our food culture. McDonald’s explosion in the 60′s and 70′s can be partially attributed to their advertising campaigns. Today the Food Network (properly or improperly) helps affect the trends and discourse of their viewers. Television’s role in food culture is difficult to deny. And let’s not even mention the TV Dinner.
9. The Restaurant is invented: We take them for granted today, but restaurants are really a recent phenomena. Prior to the late 1700′s, selling a full meal was either a secondary role of taverns or inns, or one had to go to several different vendors throughout any given area. It was the French, after their revolution, who brought forth the idea of a full sit down meal could be bought for a modest sum.
8. Immigration: What happens when people of the far away land come to a different nation looking for a new opportunity? The bring along their traditions and tastes, where it’s adapted into their adopted homeland. You want proof? Check out the kebab houses in England, or the many Italian-American restaurants here in the States. None would exist without immigration.
7. Discovery of Fermentation: It made farmer’s crops more valuable, as it extended the reach of grain crops. It affected medicine, religion, and governments. Tax and import/export laws would look far different today without it. Then there’s the economics of drunkenness. How many work days do you think have been lost throughout the ages due to hangovers and alcoholism?
6. Old World meets New World: Prior to the age of exploration, the following foods were unheard of to Europe and Asia – Maize, Potatoes, Turkeys, Tomatoes, Chocolate, Sugar Cane, and a variety of spices and herbs. The affect of these foods on the Old World was nothing short of a tremendous paradigm shift.
5. The Silk Road and Trade Routes: If you think food was regional 100 years ago, imagine what it was like 1500 years ago, where carrots, cabbage, and a multitude of other food products we take for granted were seen as “exotic”.
4. Invention of Refrigeration: People have known for ages that food keeps longer in cold regions. The Romans even had set up an ice trade that some of the wealthy had used to keep food stuffs longer (not to mention storing their own versions of ice cream). However, once refrigeration became affordable to the middle and lower middle classes, foods that were once available only seasonally now had their shelf life extended. Leftovers now became a food source. And the ability to ship foods long distance also became realized.
3. Green Revolution: Anytime technology allows you to produce anywhere between two times to ten times the amount of edible crops than previously, it changes the dynamics of society. Prices for food goes down, and the lower classes get to eat more often. Lifespans increase, and economies of countries shift. Just ask India.
2. Pursuit of Salt: Humans cannot exist without this mineral, and for the longest time in history, it was the primary way of extending the shelf life of food. Empires have grown up around the control of salt, and have failed when they took such control for granted. Mark Kurlansky explains the impact of salt far better than I can in one paragraph.
1. The Domestication of Fire: Food plus fire allowed humans to process foods internally far more effectively than before. The domestication of fire meant that we could cook food on a regular basis, and far better diet (or at least extract far more nutrition) out of the food that was available. And healthier humans eventually leads to more productive humans.