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There is no Next Episode of Eat: The Story of Food planned.
Throughout history food revolutionaries have transformed the way we look at food, cook food and sell food. The unlikely television star Julia Child kicked off the vast food entertainment industry when she appeared on TV to promote her new cookbook and encouraged viewers to demand more from their dinner plates. Over 400 years earlier Christopher Columbus crossed the ocean looking for pepper, a commodity so valuable that when he found the chili pepper in "the New World" he tried unsuccessfully to pass it off as a kind of pepper back home. French chef Auguste Escoffier made fine French food accessible to people by codifying French recipes in a definitive cookbook, and 100 years later science nerd Nathan Myhrvold raised the ante with his $600, 1,000-page "Modernist Cuisine" cookbook. The rise of processed foods in the 20th century was led by Chef Hector Boiardi, who made it possible for people from all over America to enjoy the food he made in his restaurant by mass-producing his sauce, and by Clarence Birdseye, whose discovery of ways to make frozen food taste good led to, among other things, the rise of the TV dinner. And finally, Howard Moskowitz's theories on human taste gave consumers more choices in the grocery store.
The story of meat is the story of mankind. One primatologist claims that cooked meat may have started it all: Once prehumans heated their food, their bodies obtained more energy, causing them to reproduce better and survive longer. Humans' insatiable appetite may have eaten its way through prehistoric beasts, effectively modifying the food chain and, consequentially, the landscape. The next step was to take food on the road, and, after realizing salt could be a preservative, the Romans did just that to help expand their empire. From there the story goes global: In China, disease nearly wipes out their beloved pork stock; Americans discover how to mass produce chickens; Spam keeps soldiers fed in World War II; and the hamburger becomes the most ubiquitous of all meat dishes, with McDonalds claiming to sell 75 hamburgers every second. Today the food supply can barely keep up with the demand, and scientists are trying to find solutions for our hunger: in-vitro meat, insects and veggie Burgers.
For millions of years our ancestors' diet was filled with the richest fruit from the tops of the tree canopy in the rain forest. When climates changed and our traditional sources of energy dwindled, many species died along with that disappearing bounty, but those with the ability to process sugar survived. About 10,000 years ago, somewhere in Asia, sugarcane was first farmed, and later, in India, these sweet stalks were turned into "khanda," or candy. Sugar was then carried from India along the Silk Road to China, the Middle East and Europe. People began to consume it voraciously through Europe's three newly discovered culinary drugs: chocolate from the New World, coffee from the Middle East and tea from the Far East. Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to the Caribbean, where the plant thrived and would ultimately reveal the dark side of sugar: the slave trade. Industrialization created new ways to produce even more refined sugar, and the golden age of the candy bar followed. Sugar consumption reflects both our fears about who we are and our fantasies about who we might become. The story of sugar is the story of us.
From the deadliest catch to the wickedest tuna, fruit from the sea continues to redefine who and what we are today. High-protein, omega-rich seafood saved our species from its first threat of extinction, drove the Viking hordes, funded the American Revolution, gave hope to the Allies during two world wars, and increasingly fuels our brains and muscles today. Market fish like cod and tuna defined entire eras of history, but unsustainable practices are forcing us to redefine our commercial goals in the ocean. Current demand necessitates a sea change in our attitudes toward seafood. Increasingly, we look "off the eaten path," investigating ways to catch, eat and prepare what the sea gives us instead of creating unsustainable demands for a single species. Newly developed techniques of 3-D ocean farming of oysters, mussels and sea kelp not only sustain us but heal the oceans as well.
It's the stuff we love to hate: processed food. It has changed what we eat so much that today our ancestors would hardly recognize it as food. The modern quest for this fast and convenient food may have begun with Herman Lay and his innovative individual packages of potato chips. During World War II industrialization gave us Spam, processing techniques developed for soldier rations gave us frozen foods and an increasingly female workforce gave rise to the need for quick and easy meals. The interstate highway system literally paved the way for fast food restaurants, and people were hooked. With companies around the world churning out new products to get a slice of someone's "stomach share," questions and concerns abound about the health and safety of these foods loaded with sugar, fat and salt. The question about embracing or fighting this fast food revolution may be even more important for our future.
The discovery of how to grow and cook grain led to the establishment of agriculture, which ultimately allowed humans to end hunter/gatherer practices and settle into the stay-at-home family groups that formed the earliest civilizations. Grains more than any other foods are emblematic of the struggle between the haves and have-nots, as evidenced by the French Revolution, and ancient versus modern, exemplified through the development of packaged sliced bread. In the past 80 years attempts to refine this once-perfect food have resulted in the unintended consequences of making some breads empty of nutrition and gluten arising as the newest enemy among food warriors. Today grains in their purest form have risen again with a renewed embrace of the natural and artisanal found in a great loaf of bread, an amber mug of craft beer or a hand-tossed crust in a gourmet pizza pie.