Learning about the pioneers who brought us the food we enjoy

Learning about the pioneers who brought us the food we enjoy today is probably something we never thought of. After all, most modern populations are not known for their knowledge of history and geography.

But food, like everything else had pioneers who paved the way for our comfort and safety, according to researchers of more than 40 years ago, Ernst and Johanna Lehner.

When we sit down to breakfast, lunch or dinner we never realize that generation after generation of human beings have used themselves as guinea pigs to find out by trial and error which of all the many thousands of plants around the world were edible and medicinal foods.

These experiments resulted in both pleasure and knowledge—and catastrophe.

And the sum total of all this pioneer work of bygone generations has filled our kitchens, super markets, refrigerators, pantries and medicine cabinets with the stuff that food pioneers have benefited from and died for.

We do not realize that the greater number of our grains, vegetables, herbs, fruits, condiments and stimulants are not native to where we live but were originated hundreds, sometimes thousands of years ago on other continents.

Our primary thanks are due to the curious adventurers, travelers, food doctors and scholars of antiquity, such as the ‘Father of Medicine’, Hippocrates, the Greek historian Herodotus, whose explorations took him to Africa, Egypt, Assyria and Persia, and Alexander the Great, whose military thrusts led him into Persia and India.

There was Marco Polo from Italy (1254-1324), whose extensive travels of learning brought him to Mongolia and China, the Mohammedan Saracens, the Christian  crusaders and the Turkish Mameluks, the Spanish conquistadores and the mariners and explorers of many lands.

Marco Polo recorded many food medicine sources of ancient times.

All took along the seeds of their native plants and the plants they had discovered in other lands.

When the first white settlers arrived in North America, they found in the beginning a dull fare of maize, beans, squash, sweet potatoes, nuts and odds and ends.

Much time elapsed before they were able to import seeds and cuttings to cultivate on American soil all the commonplace cereals, vegetables, fruits and herbs from other lands.

From western Asia and Europe came the cereal grains, sugar beet and carrot. From the Orient came rice. From South and Latin America, the tomato made its bow. Later, the cabbage, lettuce and turnip arrived.

From every corner of the globe spirit beverages were brought in, with a wide variety of the herbs and fruits from which they were brewed.

So that is why learning about the pioneers who brought us the food we enjoy is important for all of us who take so much for granted.

All of the modern benefits we take for granted today were fought and died for—including food.

Source: Folklore and Odysseys of Food and Medicinal Plants, by Ernst and Johanna Lehner