Food and its role through the ages: why do we eat what we eat?


Rosella Koning
FOODbase Wageningen, The Netherlands


The perspective of us, everyday consumers of food is highlighted in this column. How do you experience the world of food around you? Let me show you my perspective and I would be happy to hear yours.

The role of food in human society has changed over the ages. Hunter-gatherers required food for their own, and their offspring’s survival, but food was often scarce or hard to capture and kill. Food had the same basic importance for farmers, with farming having the advantage of higher food security. However, the risks of diseases in crops, weather or war resulting in a bad harvest, could affect the survival of the tribe. When travelling became possible, through the invention of multiple modes of transportation, food became a trade commodity. Therefore infrequently available foods became a privilege, and could be used to position oneself and show the world your wealth. 

As science progressed, it started to discover the first elements of knowledge that still stand today; absence of certain food groups could result in diseases. It was only a matter of time before the nutrients responsible for a healthy body were identified. The underlying physiological processes related to several food groups were soon discovered; proteins are needed for muscle growth, carbohydrates for energy, fats to maintain cell walls and communication, and vitamins/minerals are essential to many pro ...