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The Review of an Edible History of Humanity

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Based upon my reading of “An Edible History Of Humanity” by Tom Standage, I learned many things — foods becoming a technology due to human intervention, hunter-gatherers being at a far more advantage than farmers themselves, the impact of domestication of plants and animals on parts of the world, and much more. Throughout the beginning of the reading, it was explained how in ancient times humans would domesticate three particular crops (wheat, maize, and rice) so that they would grow an abundant supply in a shorter amount of time. Although, this sounds like a huge gain for humans, it was still a horrible process for the crops because due to complex, yet deleterious processes, the crops came to a point where they were not able to grow without human intervention. Likewise, such processes then introduced farming. However, stated by Standage the adoption of “farming” was the “worst mistake” in the “history” of the “human race”. 

This statement was made because the domestication of plants and animals was causing more harm than good. As a result, hunter-gatherers were brought upon. In ancient times, you may think of hunter-gatherers as the specific group of people who had a hard time sustaining a sufficient food supply compared to farmers. When in fact, this was not true at all, simply because hunter-gatherers moved where their food would go, meaning, whenever a food source in a particular location depleted, they would move to another location where there was an abundant supply of whichever food they were looking for at that particular time. Farmers preferred to stay in one spot and plant the crops that they felt as though would provide a sufficient amount to their people. However, farmers were at a disadvantage because they were introduced to diseases , such as , anemia , malaria , and tuberculosis. More importantly, this only happened because farming resulted in an unbalanced diet with less variations than with what hunter-gatherers had. In view of these particular two groups , it was then asserted that the shift between hunting and gathering to farming was actually more of a gradual shift than an instant one. With this being the case, 

Standage also went on to refine how the shift to the “adoption of farming” had all begun with hunter-gatherers. Within the hunting and gathering society, there were rules to avoid “overexploitation”, attempts to create “obligation”, and to avoid one to feel that they have a higher status than others. Hunter-gatherers would share all weapons and food across their groups (bands) to avoid one to feel they have stepped up to superiority. Given these points, hunter-gatherers did not have the “perfect lifestyle”, to control their population at times, they had to use infanticide, which caused “wide conflict” and cannibalism. Eventually, hunter-gatherers started to settle down into permanent residences, in other words, villages, and some villages were smaller than others. The villages that were larger usually meant they had more “prestige items” , which then introduced the society appropriation of having private property. Then, as the appropriation of private property was brought upon, then this caused for some villages to become wealthier than others. As the villages became wealthier and larger, a leader was needed to maintain the surplus resources and to help keep control. In ancient times, the name oc the leader was extremely self-explanatory, “The Big Man”; whatever may come to your mind when you hear this name that is exactly what he did for his village or community. “The Big Man” wasn’t necessarily the chief of the village just yet, he was the manager of the village per-se. With this in mind, Standage declared that the “emergence” of “social stratification” is closely fitted with the “production of food”. As a result, one theory that was brought upon on how the big man can become chief was being able to regulate agricultural activities, particularly irrigation because mainly it would increase the village’s production in agriculture. 

Later on, food, in general, became the way of holding up such hierarchical positions in civilizations. The Incas are the perfect examples; their agriculture was closely linked to warfare because the ruling elite was the last standing descendant of defeating the “local savages”. The ruling elite was always the first to break the ground because it showed the power over his people, also because breaking the ground helped for them to begin planting crop(s), particularly maize. Likewise, food was used in other ways throughout civilizations, it was used to “barter transactions” and to pay wages and taxes. Some civilizations paid their debt or “taxes” in different ways. Egypt and Mesopotamia, farmers rented their land from landowners, officials, temples, and nobles. Mainly, in return for a fraction of a share from their harvest on the land they rented. In Shang China, rural clans were allowed to keep their land, for “supplied labor to work in state-owner fields” in return. Later on, food then became apart of religious practices in some civilizations because it provided a “cosmological justification” for the elite’s right to control the taxes, as explained by Standage. For instance, the Aztecs felt as though providing enough human sacrifices from particularly criminals or prisoners of war, to their Earth Mother would allow for her to continue letting their crops grow. Then, in some Mesoamerican cultures, it was believed that the Gods had the flesh of maize and were sacrificing themselves to “sustain humanity”. After awhile spices were introduced. In ancient times, spices were known to be very expensive and exotic, they were expensive because you could only find them in particular locations/places, as stated by some philosophers. There were quite a few stories created by philosophers of where certain spices came from. It was said that the abundant supply of spices could be found in India, and traders from other countries usually bartered with gold and silver because the merchants of India were not appealed by most of their goods for their spices. Spices encouraged massive amounts of traveling and trade throughout the world by both land and sea. However, because of the spices traveling by sea, they were introduced to toxins in the well waters caused by war troops. 

This then brought upon the Black Death Plague to some because the people were using the spices at first to help with the sickness, but realized that the spices themselves might be actually making them become even more ill, so for decades people of the mediterranean basin were afraid to even look at spices because it had caused them such sickness once before.

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The Review Of An Edible History Of Humanity. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from
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