Edible History Of Humanity By Tom Standage History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Book report on an edible history of humanity by Tom Standage. Tom Standage’s book regarding edible history of humanity gives us numerous pictures of looking at the past. The book approaches history in a different way altogether: as a sequence of changes caused, influenced or enabled by food. Throughout history, food has not only provided sustenance but has also acted as the catalyst of societal organization, social change, economic expansion, military conflict, geopolitical competition and industrial development. Since the time of prehistory to present, the stories of these changes form a story that encompasses the entire human history.
The food’s first transformative role was the basis for entire civilizations. The taking in of agriculture enabled new settled lifestyle and put mankind on the path to the modern world. However, the staple crops that aided the first civilizations hardly and the wheat in the near east, rice and millet in Russia, potatoes and maize in America were not simply revealed by chance. Instead, they came out through a multifaceted process of co-evolution because preferred traits were chosen and propagated by the early farmers. These crops are in effect, development; intentionally cultivated technologies that existed only as a result of human intervention. Adoption of agriculture as a story is the narration of how early genetic engineers came up with powerful and new tools that made progress itself possible. In the process man changed plants and eventually the same plants in turn transformed people.
By offering the platform through which civilizations could be founded, food then acted as a social organization tool, helping to structure and shape complex societies that came up later. The religious, political and economic structures of the early society, right from hunter-gatherers to the very first civilizations were based on systems of food production and allocation. The production of agricultural food surpluses as well as the coming up of irrigation systems and communal food storage fostered political centralization with agricultural fertility rituals developing into state religions and food becoming a medium of taxation and payment; feasts were used in garnering influence and show status; food handouts were used in defining and refining power structures. Allover the ancient world before money was invented, food was a sign of wealth and ability to control food was power.
With the emergence of civilizations in various parts of the world, food aided to connect them together. Food-trade routes acted as inter-boundary communication networks that improved not just commercial exchange but religious and cultural exchange as well. Spice routes that spanned the ancient world resulted in cross cultural fertilization in fields which were diverse just like the field of architecture, religion and science. The first geographers began to take interest in people and customs from far places and compiled the first efforts at world maps. By far the biggest change caused by food trade was as a result of European need to avoid the Arab spice domination. The result of this was the revelation of a new world, establishment of first colonial outposts by the European nations and opening of maritime trade routes between Asia, Europe and America.
As European nations tried to build global empires, the next big shift in human history was aided by food, a flow in economic development during industrialization. Potatoes and sugar just like the steam engine underpinned the process of industrial revolution. Sugar production on plantation on the West Indies was considered the first prototype of the industrial process that mainly relied on slave labor. Meanwhile potatoes overcame the first suspicion among the European as a staple food that yielded more calories than cereals from a given area of land. Together, potatoes and sugar offered cheap sustenainace for the workers who worked in new factories in the industrial era. In Britain for instance where the process first started, the upsetting question whether the future of the country lies in industry or agriculture was decisively and unexpectedly resolved by the Irish potato famine of the mid 19th century.
Using food as war weapon is timeless; however large scale military wars of the 18th and 19th centuries elevated it to a new level. Food played a vital role in determining the consequences of the two conflicts that defined the USA, revolutionary war of 18th and 19th centuries as well as the civil war of 1860s. Meanwhile, the rise and fall of Napoleon closely connected his capacity to feed his large population of armies. The 20th century mechanization of warfare gave the impression that for the first time in history, feeding machines with ammunition and fuel became an important factor than feeding soldiers. However, food took a new twist, as an ideological weapon during the era of cold war between communism and capitalism, and finally helped to determine the result of the conflict. In the modern society food has become a battle filed for other issues, including globalization, development and trade.
During the twentieth century the application of industrial and scientific to agriculture brought about dramatic increase in food supply and the corresponding increase in the world population. The green revolution led to social as well as environmental problems. However, without it there would have been a lot of famine in much of the developing world in 1970s. By making sure that food supply grows rapidly than the population, the green revolution opened the way for the amazingly rapid industrialization in Asia as the century came to an end. Because people in industrial societies consider having a smaller number of children compared to those in the agricultural societies, this in turn the peak of the human population near the end of the 21st century is now on sight.
The tales of many personal foodstuffs, traditions and food related customs and the coming up of a particular nation cuisines, have already been narrated. Less focus has been given to the question of food’s world-historical significance. This responsibility does not assert that any single has the key to understanding history; nor does it try to give a brief account of the whole history of food or the whole world’s history. It rather draws on a range of disciplines that include genetics, anthropology, genetics, economics, ethno botany and archaeology. It focuses especially on intersections between world history food histories. Asking a simple question; which foods have offered the most in terms of shaping the modern world and in which way? By taking a long term historical dimension also gives a new way to shed light on modern debates about food, like the argument surrounding the genetically modified organisms. The link between poverty and food, coming up of local food movements, use of plants to make biofuels, effectiveness of food as a tool of mobilizing political support for a number of causes, and the widely accepted way of reducing the environmental impact of modern agricultural methods.
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