Food — there is so much that we put into it in terms of effort, time and creativity that we end up producing over one and half times more food than is needed to feed the entire world population, or in other words, enough food to feed over 10 billion bellies. It is not just that we produce an overabundance of food; we also devour huge portions of it. For instance, an average person will consume over 100 tons of food and nearly 50,000 liters of water in his lifetime.
Sometimes it just seems like everything that we do is for food; since history, our bored tongues, demands for new tastes and the sheer love of food have led to the evolving the process of cooking and eating into an art. We have found hundreds of ways to cook up a particular ingredient and in the process numerous cuisines, food shows, cooking techniques and cookware have evolved.
As Kahlil Gibran wrote, "But since you must kill to eat, and rob the newly born of its mother's milk to quench your thirst, let it then be an act of worship,” we took this as our talisman and dived in full-throttle into worshipping food. We have become acolytes of cooking, eating, tasting, and celebrating food. We grow food in huge amounts; we store them in jars in vinegar, sugar, salt. We grow them in different sizes, shapes, colors, tastes, textures, breeds and classes and transport them around the world.
In the Americas, well before the arrival of Columbus, prehistoric farmers had developed hundreds of varieties of corn, beans and tomatoes, as well as dozens of pepper breeds, all in a range of gorgeous and gaudy colors. While this variety came from decades of laborious selection and breeding, modern crop breeders can create dozens of flashy and flavorful new food hybrids in just a year. A company in China is said to produce pears that look exactly like a plump little Buddha, complete with folded arms, plump tummies, and meditative smiles - the secret is a plastic mold.
We now sell food across borders, across continents and oceans; food on our table could come from a farm down the road, across the country, or, in the case of some exotic foods, from somewhere half way across the world. So much has happened to food throughout history that it is interesting to take a peek into the dining rooms of famous figures and to examine the intersection of food, nature, culture and health fads over the years.
Although ancient Romans used metal spikes to winkle out snails, the fork did not appear with regularity until the 17th century. In the gilded world of late 19th-century America, flatware sets could extend to 30 types of forks, with various ones for shrimp, sardines, lobster, scallops, and oysters. This goes to show that the addiction to exotic foods and innovative forms of eating them that seem to have gripped us now is nothing new; dull food has always been old news.
Now, more than ever, food has become more than a mere meal; it has become, among others, a form of expression portraying our social standing, indicating our indulgence abilities. Food is also a gauge of our personal preferences for taste, textures, colors and flavors. It is our love for food that takes us to distant farm kitchens to taste fresh seasonal fare, or prepare a virtual meal online. Our penchant for the visual appeal of food has led to farmers and breeders coming up with a mind-boggling array of fruits and vegetables each vying to look better than the other.