Food and Nutrition
Most people enjoy eating, but what they choose varies widely, whether they are living in this country
or some other part of the world.
The reason for these differences can be traced to many factors including the place of birth, cultural
heritage, religion, individual preferences and income.
The geographic origins of foods determined the diets of early people because they had to survive on
whatever they could find to eat in their immediate environment.
As foods became cultivated and plentiful, various cultures evolved in distant places, and special food
patterns and preferences began to play an important role in celebrations and religions, as well as in
Travel, conquests, and migrations gradually expanded human knowledge and experiences. Exciting
tales of such travelers as Marco Polo introduced ideas and evidence of different cultures from distant
places. Discoveries included new foods, some of which could be traded and transported to other
people and places.
Early Food Habits
Early people‟s food habits derived strictly from what was available in the near environment. Hunter-
gathers were restricted to the particular plants and prey indigenous to where they lived. Survival was
the driving force that determined what was eaten.
Archaeologists have been able to identify some of the foods eaten by the people who lived at the sites
being studied, although many food samples have been destroyed by time.
Geographic features of their immediate environment determined significantly what foods were
available to early people. For example, if they were living in an area nest to an ocean, the possibility
of food from the sea was a nourishing, if challenging prospect. Similarly, some people were fortunate
enough to live near a lake or a stream where they could catch fish to eat. Civilization with access to
either fresh or saltwater fishing developed dietary patterns in which fish played a very important role.
Evidence of shellfish being used as human food as far back as 127, 000 years ago has been found in
Southern Africa. Some early cave paintings indicate that hunting was another way of acquiring food.
Civilizations that flourished in temperate river valleys were able to grow wheat or other cereal and
They were also able to domesticate animals, which were allowed to grazes or were fed portions of the
crops reserved for that purpose. Designed by the Central Europeans.
Around 12, 000 BCE, people in Upper Egypt and Nubia were using grindstones to make flour from
wild emmer (wheat) was being harvested by 10 000 BCE, and einkorn (a type of wheat) was eaten in
Syria to Mesopotamia and Egypt in 8000 BCE. Sheep were domesticated to add to the diet in this
Before 7000 BCE, goats and pigs were domesticated as sources of meat from Anatolia (now southern
Turkey) as far east as Pakistan.
Barley became a food crop in India, and farming was developing in the region between the Indus
River and the Baluchistan Hills around 7000 BCE.
Taro was a cultivated crop in New Guinea by 7000 BCE, approximately the same time manioc was
being grown in the upper region of the Amazon in South America.
By 6000 BCE, farming was established in central Mesopotamia and China, and Peruvians in South
America were raising potatoes.
Around 6200 BCE, farming was extending into Western Europe and along the Mediterranean Sea, but
use of cattle for ploughing did not begin until around 4500 BCE near the lower Danube.
Use of animals for milk and wool did not occur in Europe until about 3500 BCE, at which time the
plough was introduced in western and northern areas of Europe.
Around 5000 BCE, wet rice farming was being carried on in eastern China, maize was being
developed as an aid to farming in Mesopotamia.
Influences Determining Diets
Geography Food and Nutrition
Topography was a geographic dimension that influences agricultural land use.
Mountainous regions were inhospitable setting for early people. The rugged terrain made agriculture
virtually impossible, and the extreme cold due to the high elevations added to the hazards of
attempting to live in the upper elevations of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, and the Himalayas.
Lower valleys in the mountains could be used for grazing animals in the summer, but the mountains
were not the regions early civilizations developed.
Extremely steep slopes were appropriate only for raising goats or perhaps sheep. On the other hand,
gently rolling or flat lands were well suited to growing a variety of crops.
In contrast to Mesopotamia‟s favourable weather, the climate of approximately the northern half of
Asia was not only dry and arid, but also severely cold in winter due to its northern latitudes and some
Natural rainfall has been adequate for growing many crops around the world, and this reliance on
nature influenced the early crops that were raised in various regions.
o Rice was the staple grain for centuries in the monsoonal areas of the world, from India to
Japan, while wheat was the favoured grain crops in farm areas that received moderate
amounts of rain.
Early people living in rice-growing areas did not eat wheat because it did not grow well in such wet
In some parts of the world, rainfall was adequate most seasons for early people to raise a crop, while
in more arid places; irrigation was required for crops to flourish.
Farmers terraced the steep hillsides of Bali to create rice paddies that have been maintained and
utilized for centuries.
The length of the growing season (the number of days at temperatures warm enough active growth)
also determined whether or not a crop could be grown in a particular location
o For example, corn requires a growing season of at least 140 days to mature. Countries at very
high or very low latitudes didn‟t have enough warm days for corn to mature.
At several points around the world, pockets of rather sophisticated cultures emerged. These
civilizations began to create riches that sometimes results in the exchange of goods.
Trade routes, such as the Silk Road across Asia, were developed over land.
Se captains ventured around Africa to destinations in the Indian Ocean. Lead to unique food and other
goods to be carried to and from new markets. Added variety to foods and flavours enjoyed by people
over vast distance.
A Capsule of Cultures and Conquests
Early Cultural Sites
Egypt is likely to be the first culture for the dramatic temples and pyramids built by early Egyptians
more than 4 000 years ago remain as testimonials to these people.
Chines culture was developing and flourishing on the eastern edge of Asia as early as 1 800 BCE,
during the Shang dynasty.
Conquests and Empires
Cultural centers developed at various points around the world during the two millennia prior to the
birth of Christ.
Geographical barriers eventually began to be breached, and knowledge of other groups leads to the
desire for conquest and possible riches.
Achaemenid Empire th
The Persians conquered vast empire by the 6 century BCE. The Achaemenid Empire (Persian
Empire) included present-day Turkey, the Levant (eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea), Armenia,
eastwards in Asia beyond the Caspian Sea and Samarkand etc.
Early Mediterranean Cultures Food and Nutrition
The Minoan civilization on the island of Crete flourished in its Mediterranean and location because of
the favourable environment for farming and safety from attacks of other people.
Art was developed and appreciated as can be seen in the murals from King Knossus‟ palace.
As a result of the abrupt end to the Minoan civilization, the Myceneans on the Greek Peloponnesus
peninsula were able to establish control over Crete, and they extended their control to Sicily, Sardinia,
and Troy at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
Hellenistic Greece (Classical Greece) began to emerge by 323 BCE as a civilization characterized by
remarkable achievements in philosophy, mathematics, and the arts.
The artistic creations of the Greeks of this era are among the leading cultural gifts to the world that are
still prized today.
Dining was an important aspect of life for wealthier Greeks of this era. Servants prepared and served
meals to masters and their male guests who reclined on couches in the male dining room. Women ate
separately from the men.
Meals featured breads and cake (made with wheat and barley), local fruits such as figs and grapes and
vegetables, perhaps seafood, and cheese prepared from goat‟s milk, as well as wine from local grapes.
The Roman Empire began in in Italy but gained immense dimensions as its leaders sent legions to
various points, starting with lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Among the significant contributions of the Romans to their provinces were law and government,
roads, aqueducts, and baths.
The Mongol Empire
The Mongol Empire presents a sharp contrast to the ways of the Roman Empire. It lasted for only
200 years, beginning under Genghis Khan.
He united very fierce warriors from the various tribes of Mongolia and central Asia, who breached the
Great Wall and invaded China in 1211 CE.
One of the consequences of the westward push beyond the Caspian Sea was the acquisition of many
Turkish-speaking people which ultimately led to the demise of the Seljuk sultanate in Turkey and the
establishment of the Ottoman Empire there.
The food habits of the Mongols were drastically different from those of the Greeks and Romans. The
harsh climate and living conditions of the Mongols‟ native lands fostered a diet based heavily on
meats from both wild and domesticated animals.
One of the consequences of the Mongol Empire was a weakening of Christianity, which had been
fairly strong in Constantinople, and tremendous gain in support of Islam, as well as some
strengthening of Buddhism.
Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane, provided an interesting footnote to the Mongol Empire. He
invaded India in 1526 CE to begin the Mughal Empire, which extended westward from the Arabian
Sea well into Afghanistan and included all of Kashmir, southward along the Indian side of the
Himalayas and a long coastline of the Bay of Bengal before turning westward to the Arabian Sea just
north of Bombay.
Three empires (Mayans, Incan, and Aztec) were dominant in different areas of the Americans, the
earliest being the Mayan Empire.
Remains of this culture still stand on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and in the jungle lowlands of
The Incan Empire was the leading civilizations in the mountains of Peru and beyond in South America
from about 1300 CE until Pizarro arrived from Spain, conquering the Incas and seizing Cuzco in
The Aztecs gained control of the land near today‟s Mexico City when they arrived in 1345 C and built
their capital, Tenochtitlan.
Emerging Trade Routes
The growth trade was a natural result of the conquests mentioned above, as well as many others
around the world. Food and Nutrition
Wheat was one of the early items traded from the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, for third was a
crop that could be transported long distances to such places as Europe, Scandinavia, and the British
Isles without spoiling.
Spices offered very early traders two particularly outstanding characteristics that spurred the spice
trade: long shelf life and high market value per volume and weight.
Changes in food habits and diets occurred gradually as a consequence of conquests and trade, but
improvements in transportation since the time of the early empires have accelerated this trend.
Today’s World Food Scene
Other critical problems are limiting actual consumption in many developing nations. The food
equation included several critical factors: population, acceptability, production, and distribution.
Population at Risk
Although all nations have some under-nourished people, lack of food is a far more pervasive problem
in some developing countries that in the rest of the world.
Sometime the problem is lack of food availability; other problems occur because of limited access to
food, which may be due to localized problems such as crops failures or distribution problems that
occur following an earthquake or governmental conflicts.
Poverty can seriously affect the ability of people to buy food essential for health and even survival.
In May 2008, 47 nations were identified as needing assistance from outside their borders, a daunting
figure even with translating this into numbers of people suffering malnutrition leading to starvation
21 African nations were on the list; the underlying reasons varied from country to country and
included civil strife, war, conflict, low productivity, severe drought, and economic instability.
Weather plays a key role in determining how large a crop will be in a growing season.
Excessive rain can delay planting, which may mean that there is inadequate time for growth and
maturation so the crop can be harvested before winter weather sets in.
Spring flooding or heavy rains wile crops are growing can severely damage or destroy them at any
point prior to harvesting.
Drought, the opposite weather problem, also can have a tremendous impact on crop yields. Without
adequate water, plants grow slowly and produce less food per acre, and the quality also is dismissed
Crop failures mean reduced income so that farmers may be unable to buy the supplies needed for the
next planting. Continued droughts result in ever-diminishing yields the subsequent growing seasons.
Limited food further compounds the difficulties because farmers may be too weak to work their land
The United Nations‟ Food and Agriculture Organization, International Red Cross, and various
religious groups and private foundations usually are actively involved in helping to distribute food and
other aid were serious food shortages occur.
Poverty is a large obstacle to obtaining enough food to eat, particularly in such developing countries
People who are barely able to feed themselves in the best of times are likely to be susceptible to
diseases, which may make it impossible for them to disease, which make it impossible for them to
work and buy food
Access to safe water is another problem confronting many people in areas where food insecurity is
found. International relief agencies have provided help by installing wells in some regions where
contaminated water has been causing cholera and other disease. On a specific loan
One approach to helping to improve the incomes of people who are most needy in developing
countries has been micro-loan (particularly to women) for small business.
Special Messages of Food
Food sometimes carries special meanings beyond simply providing nutrients. Food and Nutrition
The subtle message conveyed by a particular food may be a non-verbal exchange between people at a
meal or a social occasion.
Certain foods may be absolutely essential on a particular occasion. For example, matzo (unleavened
bread) must be served for Jewish Passover.
Is a simple yet essential part of the diet for people a d animals, has been valued throughout the world
for many centuries.
o In remote Tibet during the time of Marco Polo (around 1300 CE), salt cakes served as a
The importance of salt can be seen in various religious and cultural traditions of the past. Catholic
priests used to place a little salt on the baby‟s tongue during baptismal rites so the baby would
“receive the salt of wisdom”.
Another food that has been a symbol over many centuries and in different cultures is the egg. Since
pagan times eggs have conveyed special meaning to people.
o Pagan considered them to be a symbol of fertility and renewal of life. The shell represented
earth, the membrane was air, the white was water, and the yolk was fire.
Understanding Human Subsistence Patterns
The fundamental requirement of any cultural group is to feed its members.
There are different subsistence patterns-methods of obtaining food-each making different use of
available land and resources, each making different use of available labour and energy, and each
utilizing a different technology.
Other aspects of culture tend to co-occur with particular subsistence strategies. These include the size
and durability of settlements that people live in, the ideas that people have about property and
ownership, an even the ways that people think of themselves and other people.
Two basic models of subsistence involve finding food (foraging, or hunting and gathering) and
growing food (food production).
Foraging vs. Food Production
Our early ancestors were foragers, or hunter-gatherers. They hunted, fished, and collected wild plants,
nuts, fruits, and insects.
Foraging was humanity‟s only subsistence-strategy for countless millennia until about 10 000 years
People who grow crops or manage herds are food producers. They transform and manage their
environment to obtain their food.
The three major types of food productions are pastoralism, horticulture, and agriculture.
o Pastoralism: involves raising and caring for large herds of domesticated animals as primary
o Horticultural: small scale farming using a relatively simple technology.
o Agricultural: combined with industrial processes that eliminate much of the need for human
Ecosystem, Adaptation, and Carry Capacity
Subsistence techniques vary considerably, in part depending on available resources-climate, and
They are developed to satisfy people‟s needs to for food, clothing, and shelter. They must also be
adapted to available resources, water, land, and labour-supple some areas of the world are rich in
natural resources whereas others are meagre, each presenting an array of possibilities and challenged
for human populations
The carrying capacity of any region or environment is the number of people who can be sustained by
It is not a fixed number and it varies with such factors as subsistence techniques, labour expenditure,
and technological development.
This means that people can change a region‟s carrying capacity by changing their way of life. Food and Nutrition
o The same region can –generally support a bigger population of farmers than of foragers. As
farmers work harder to cultivate more land, or develop technologies like irrigation to make
their land more productive, they can increase yields and the size of the population that the
land can sustain.
Another factor influencing carrying capacity is the resources within an ecosystem that people choose
People in all cultures make distinctions between the foods that they consider to be edible and those
they consider inedible, whether or not they are actually capable of consuming them.
o For example, different people regard different kinds of animals, insects, fish, or plants and
seaweeds as inedible or edible because of cultural attitudes.
Many aspects of society and culture, including population density, the way people reckon kinship, and
the way people feed and shelter themselves.
Subsistence and Settlement Pattern
Settlement Patterns: the way people distribute themselves in their environment: where they locate
their dwellings, how they group dwellings, and how permanent or transitory those settlements are.
o Foragers tend to live in small settlements that fluctuate in size and location, depending on the
seasonal availability of plants, animals, and water.
o Pastoralists often alternate between two or three locations during they year, making use of
familiar available grazing lands for their animals. The size of these settlements varies, from
small numbers (100 people) to larger groups (thousands)
o Farmers often establish relatively permanent settlements. Horticulturalists might move
among their gardens and groves or relocate to more fertile fields.
Subsistence and Populations
The number of people living in a community depends on the resources available and the strategies
used to extract them.
The variation in community size depends on the scarcity or abundance of resources.
Food producers tend to have larger populations than foragers. The security afforded by producing
one‟s own food, along with the possibility of producing surpluses, enables larger populations to
concentrate in one settlement.
Subsistence, Work and Division of Labour
Different subsistence strategies involve different kinds of work, allocated to different people.
o In foraging societies, most work is assigned according to gender. In general, men do most of
the hunting and fishing, and women do most of the gathering of foods from plants. However,
these rules are not rigid and women can participate in hunting while men gather.
o In farming societies, the heavy work of cleaning fields is usually assigned to men. In some
cultures women are the principal farmers, whereas men are in others.
Age is also a factor in allocating work.
o In foraging societies, young children may contribute by gathering wild plants, in farming
societies, they may help plant and weed fields and harvest crops.
Subsistence and Social Relations
Foragers depend on the nature to supply them with resources although they need to develop
technologies and techniques to exploit these resources.
Foraging societies once exist in all parts of the world, but today very few people, if any, remain
dependent exclusively on a food-collecting subsistence strategy.
Over many centuries, foraging societies have been transformed into food producers, either because
they adopted new subsistence techniques on their own, in response to environmental or internal social
change, or because they were forcibly absorbed by expanding agricultural or industrial societies.
Since they depended on widely dispersed and relatively scarce resources, most foragers were nomads.
They had to travel to particular sources of food as the food became seasonally available. In some
cases, seasonal migration meant frequent relocations; in other cases, seasonal migration meant only a
few relocations. Food and Nutrition
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