Food Technology in the Past
Jonathan Wang '10

Food technology has affected people for millenia, long before the advent of chemical and genetic manipulation. It has always been a battle between man and nature: nature struggles to take back man's hard-won lunch with bacteria and decomposition. Methods and means of defying nature's grasp on food has been around in people and animals since the dawn of predation; foxes hide their finds in buried caches to prevent the cold and their rivals from finding their catches, and man has always relied on a wide variety of mechanical and chemical means of modifying or maintaining meals. One of the defining features of humankind is the invention and use of different tools and technology for improving their chances survival and thriving; tools applied to food tops the list as one of the most important and earliest advances, ranging from the rudimentary hunting weapons of the earliest humans to extensive laboratories capable of altering the nature of nature.

The technology of centuries past has often focused on the preservation or production of food; the plant and animal matter that people eat has hardly ever been a purely natural process. Spices and salt had significant value in the ancient world for their capability to keep meat fresh. Fire enables the preservation and consumption of otherwise inconvenient or dangerous foods, such as flesh or grains. Aqueducts and other irrigation systems also contribute as technology towards food, intended on modifying the climate and landscape so as to force the land into a more fertile, viable situation. The rudimentary examples of plows, row farming, and animal labor that have been around for centuries also show how closely technology and food are tied; there has not been an age where people ate truly organic food for millenia, and these ties between technology and agriculture have had a huge impact. Even genetic manipulation is nothing new; many have carefully bred and crosspollinated different plants to promote and develop new phenotypes. Food encourages population, and population often corresponds to power; feudalism during medieval times and international negotiations during the 20th century both have depended on one country or person controlling a good deal of food, and many astoundingly wealthy and devious corporations focused on food have a great deal of influence over the lives of many. Not since the agricultural revolution, not since the age of foragers and gatherers, has the reliance on natural food been widespread. Before food technology became informational, there have been ways to modify our food in the name of multiplicity, convenience, and freshness.