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THE POWER OF FOOD transformed over time from being God's gift for sustaining life to a major business and a source of pleasure. That "progress" created accidents at the social and the health levels. Aristotle, for example, was intrigued with the health aspects of different foods, and he wrote extensively about the use of garlic. Many other philosophers were health conscious and debated how eating habits influenced the body, the brain, and its spiritual power.
The people who became farmers provided a steady supply of food to others. Without knowing it at first, by cultivating grains, plants, roots, and nuts, farmers introduced new nutrients into the human diet, which has been further enriched since then. Archeological discoveries confirmed that animals were domesticated and fermented cheese was made 5,000 years ago. By then, Homo Agricola was an advanced farmer who could produce food for himself, his family, and even his neighbors.
Eventually, each society had specific foods and ways to cook them, which became part of a heritage passed down from generation to generation. The new foods and new ways of eating it also induced accidents to the internal organs, which for millions of years were accustomed to limited and primitive foods, like nuts and fruits. The effect of trying to digest these different nutrients created chemical reactions at the cellular and organic level.
Indeed, food had a power all its own. It was always in short supply, and killing for it in order to survive was often the reason for war. Poisoned food and water were used as efficient weapons, and hunger forced people, fortresses, cities, and nations into submission. On the other hand, offering food to the hungry crowds was the most efficient way for leaders to gain support. When Jesus fed thousands and miraculously changed water into wine, his fame immediately spread. Roman legionnaires were superior soldiers not only because of their discipline, but because they carried food with them; when legions marched to distant wars of conquest, each soldier had a five day food ration of salty meats, dry breads, fruits, and medicinal herbs.
It was during the early days of the Roman Empire when exotic spices from China and India made their way into Roman kitchens, helping develop a refined taste for the art of cooking. Spices like peppercorns, nutmeg, and other aromatic herbs and were so rare and highly prized that they were worth their weight in gold.
At the same time, salt was found not only to add taste to food, but most importantly, to preserve it. Homer called salt a "divine substance" with qualities that fed and healed, while also enhancing spiritual power. Salt was so valued it was called "white gold." In China, salt cookies were used instead of money, and often Roman legionnaires were paid in salarium/salt money. Salt was so precious and addictive to the Romans that one of the best roads was named Via Salaria/Highway of Salt, and the price of salt was subsidized by the state. Jesus must have thought a lot about salt when he considered the good people as being "the salt of the earth." He also recommended: "Have salt in yourself and have peace one with another," meaning live a clean life of good taste and eliminate frivolous fighting.
Some foods were dangerous, as they induced severe illness and even death. Cooked mushrooms were so loved by the Romans that poison ones could easily be substituted by assassins intent on murder.
Forks were used for the first time at the French court in Paris of 1589. Table manners hardly existed before Louis XIV, who demanded that his noblemen behave in a certain way while eating their meals. The king went so far as to ban sharply pointed knives at his royal feasts; he could not stand to see his knights picking their teeth with them. To discourage the ugly habit, the monarch ordered table knives with round tips, which today are standard cutlery.
The introductions of new foods have equally interesting stories. The potato, when it was discovered in 1533 by the conquistadors in Peru, was a dietary failure when it was introduced in Europe. People refused to eat it because dogs and horses did not like the raw tuber, only the pigs did. Accidents of numerous famines that wiped out all other harvests excepting the resistant potato made it the most popular food among the Europeans by 1765. The English, Dutch and Germans adopted the potato in their diet, but the French did not. When their grain crop failed in 1789 and there were no potatoes as substitutes, the starving people revolted, leading to the French Revolution.
When fungal disease destroyed the potato crop of Ireland from 1845–1850, the famine killed one million people. This agricultural accident forced the ancient nation into a massive migration to the United States of America. Similar nations facing the same food shortage followed the same route across the ocean, where the hitherto unplowed land proved rich enough to feed a new nation.
In contrast, the much appreciated wines of the Madeira Islands are owed to a fire accident ignited by the settlers in the fifteenth century. Entire forests were accidentally ignited by settlers and burned to the ground, leaving layers of potash that happened to be the ideal fertilizer for some of the best grapevines in the world.
The introduction of sugar to Europe elevated the price of the sweet product to that of gold. Sugar made a most appreciated gift for Maria Theresa's wedding.
President Lincoln united the nation during the Civil War around the Thanksgiving celebration, a patriotic event that found opposition in no part of America. Today, the holiday is associated with many of traditional American activities, such as football games, retail sales, and the consumption of some 80 million turkeys in a few days.
Powerful leading figures have been associated with their culinary habits. Thomas Jefferson "invented" macaroni and cheese, a dish Ronald Regan also loved. Benjamin Franklin was a chef and an enthusiastic promoter of tomato consumption. When he lived in London, his culinary taste was challenged by some sixty restaurants in which he dined. He jokingly used to say that the length of the arm was purposely designed for drinking wine. He considered alcohol, drunk in moderation, to be good for the heart and longevity. His related joke was that there are more old drunks alive than old doctors. This observation proved to have sound medical value: alcohol in moderation provides relaxation and helps prevent heart disease, while the life of doctors is shortened by constant stress and deadly accidental contamination!
Franklin's jovial table manners and exquisite culinary taste gained him many influential European friends, who helped in the American Revolution. Eventually, his good living made him suffer from royal gout at age of fifty-five, but he lived to be eighty-four years old.
When Napoleon discovered peasant bread during one of his campaigns, he and his horse Nickle/Nicole became addicted to it. His horrified valets could not do much about it except to change the name of the dark and rough bread to the more sophisticated sounding "pumpernickel."
Illustrious French writer Alexander Dumas was devoted to culinary art and wrote cookbooks alongside his well-known now-classic works.
One may wonder if the world would be different if Hitler hadn't been a vegetarian. His favorite meal was farina, strawberries and chocolate. Being an animal lover, he despised the consumption of meats, and he was a fanatic anti-alcohol and -smoking propagandist. Yet, the Fuhrer was smart enough not to ban the production of sausages and beer, the favorite foods of the Germans. If he had done so, the Nazi party would only have had a few loyal members, and WWII would not have taken place.
In contrast, Stalin was a vicious drunk, a chain smoker, and a shish kebab addict. He thought so much of his illiterate civilian cook that he made him a general. Most dictators' bloodiest ideas and political decisions have come from their drinking buddies while they overindulged on fatty foods and vodka. George H. W. Bush may best be remembered not for pushing the Communist Empire into collapse, but for declaring that he did not like to eat broccoli. Might that healthy vegetable be blamed for his failed presidential re-election?
From the use of embers to the use of microwaves, cooking techniques were a vital but a slowly progressing part of civilization. Philosophical thoughts greatly influence the way people eat. A Romanian proverb translates as: "Thinking goes through the stomach." Indeed, hunger knows no negotiation and needs no intermediary to explain it. A hungry person thinks very differently than a well-fed one. One may wonder why restaurant owners do not ask the clients to pay before they eat, because at that point they are willing to pay any price.
When the appetite, which is the natural desire to eat food, reaches the level of uncontrolled passion, gastronomic pleasure leads to the accident of addiction. Addiction creates accidents of its own, even leading to the consumption of foods that a person is allergic to. Like most temptations in life, that which is bad but makes us feel good is more appealing than that which is healthy but routine.
The case of tobacco or alcohol addiction can be compared with addiction for sweets or deep-fried foods. It seems that some foods build their own parasitic system inside our bodies that encourages their consumption. That vicious system generates specific appetites for specific nutrients needed to maintain that system. It finally creates the embryos of disorderly accidents between the healthy organs and the parasitic system attacking them. Their effect leads to ulcers, tuberculosis, lung or throat cancer, liver cirrhosis, diabetes, and other deadly diseases.
Certain inhaled or digested drugs can have hallucinogenic and deadly effects for the overexcited nervous system, accidentally damaged by noxious chemicals the body has never experienced before. It shows that we were created from certain substances fully balanced to ensure the proper function of our bodies and minds. Anything that is strange to our original chemical composition acts against us with poisonous effects. Those accidents damage our normal state of health.
When food preparation and distribution becomes big business, men jump to take over, assuring themselves one more role in dominating society. In a race for profit, the food industry has created incredible health damage. The first canned foods utilized welding for their tin containers, a procedure that induced serious mental and physical illnesses whose causes remained a mystery for a long time. In modern society, hormones and antibiotics in animals, mercury in fish, pesticides in vegetables, acid rain in fruits, pollution in water, and carbon monoxide in air are the effects of the industrial accidents imposed on the food chain and our health.
In many ways, the distribution of "fast food" made America advance even faster as a global superpower. McDonald's first opened with a simple formula—serve hamburgers and irresistible French fries and serve them FAST. Who could have predicted that more than future employees would go to Hamburger University and more than 30,000 McDonald's would eventually spread throughout the world? Burger King, Wendy's, and other fast food restaurants likewise responded to the demand for fast food. Other food specialties, like M&M candies and Hershey's chocolate bars, are also American icons. All were new types of food accidents with global effects.
Corporate farming after WWII excluded crop rotation and relied on advanced industrialized agriculture. Synthetic fertilizers revived the soil, while the use of chemicals destroyed pests, insects, birds and other predators of fruits, vegetables and grains. In time, all those powerful chemicals seeped into the ground and produced contaminated foods. The effect was perceived as the main source of cancer and other incurable diseases. It made health-conscious people take a firm stand against polluted food. The effect of that stand was translated into a return to the natural way to farm, with crops free of chemicals, and animals raised without hormones, antibiotics, or genetic modification. The American market for the organic food created an industry of health food which cashes in $11 billion a year.
To counteract the health accidents caused by food, modern medicine has reversed many of the traditional ideas of what is good and bad for the human body. Suddenly, salt was found to be the enemy of health, especially for persons with heart and kidney problems. Indeed, most people greatly exceed the 2,400 mg recommended daily intake, and that is an invitation for many bodily disturbances.
Considering that for millions of years, most humans had never tasted salt separate from what was a natural chemical ingredient in certain foods, our genetic makeup did not require the shakers and boxes of salt that have become routine in most households. The recent introduction of loose salt to our diets was a culinary accident that created problems proportional to its addictive taste. Afro-Americans are the most affected by salt intake, because in their ancient land loose salt was not available. Now, eating junk food infested with salt, blacks become victims of many diseases never experienced by their forefathers.
All in all, the word "diet" has become sacred, internationally recognized and feared. Yet, the American way of indulging in fast food and promoting its eating outlets has created millions of jobs in the restaurant industry and billions of satisfied consumers. In international terms, the American way of eating changed the traditional culinary habits of many nations. There is no doubt that he who can feed the world can rule it.