The author of the book Guns, Germs and Steel argues that these three things did the most to shape human history. I disagree, I think Food, Sex and God are primary; the big three. Guns, Germs and Steel are secondary: Steel is handy for processing the food, germs are what you get if you have sex with the wrong people or eat the wrong food, and guns are what you use when people don’t have the same god as you.
Guns and steel are products of our modern civilization. They are the shape which some aspects of our civilization have taken. Many people are beginning to argue that civilization is much older than we give it credit for. More recent archaeological finds like the one at Çatalhöyük in modern day Turkey, or the one found below sea level in Northern Britain tell us that we might be underestimating our ancestors.
What do they find at these archaeological sites? Guns? Steel? Cool inventions? No. They find the cooking pots, utensils and the leftovers from dinner. This interesting pestal was found in Papua New Guinea where agriculture developed “independently” over 9000 years ago. But this isn’t just for day to day use. It’s delicate bird shaped decorations indicate that it was likely used for celebrations or rituals.
Tools, such as arrow heads and hand axes, to get your food, were being made in Africa as long as 1.6 million years ago and in Britian 6000,000 years ago.
“Handaxes, however, seem to have been more than simple functional tools. Their symmetry in two, or sometimes three, planes shows a design beyond the utilitarian. Some researchers have argued that they were status symbols, perhaps to attract mating partners or indicate power, while others have suggested that specific shapes were used to indicate group identity. For me, these remarkable tools reveal not only the skilled craftsman, but also the appreciation of aesthetics in our earliest ancestors, and are a reflection of the thinking minds of the individuals who made them.” – BBC
The other objects commonly found at archaeological sites, along side Great¹ººº Auntie’s cutlery, are fertility symbols. Fertility Goddesses in particular. Food and sex became our first goddesses. Germs are they unseen masters of life and death – our first god.
Ideas of sex and food as ritual are older than civilization itself by magnitudes and continue to shape human civilization in quiet, yet profound ways. These artifacts suggest to me that food and sex, and by association, germs, are so intertwined with our humanity, that it is impossible to deconstruct them. They are an extension of biology and our psyche into the universe. They are the root of mythology and the seeds from which the understanding of ideas such as “thou art that” grew.
You can find some interesting information about the food/sex revolutions at: http://www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/d/g/dga11/HIST10_01_First_Revolutions.htm
If this subject catches your interest as it does mine, I have two books to recommend to you:
Appetites: Food and Sex in Post-Socialist China
DIV Judith Farquhar’s innovative study of medicine and popular culture in modern China reveals the thoroughly political and historical character of pleasure. Ranging over a variety of cultural terrains–fiction, medical texts, film and television, journalism, and observations of clinics and urban daily life in Beijing—Appetites challenges the assumption that the mundane enjoyments of bodily life are natural and unvarying. Farquhar analyzes modern Chinese reflections on embodied existence to show how contemporary appetites are grounded in history.
From eating well in improving economic times to memories of the late 1950s famine, from the flavors of traditional Chinese medicine to modernity’s private sexual passions, this book argues that embodiment in all its forms must be invented and sustained in public reflections about personal and national life. As much at home in science studies and social theory as in the details of life in Beijing, this account uses anthropology, cultural studies, and literary criticism to read contemporary Chinese life in a materialist and reflexive mode. For both Maoist and market reform periods, this is a story of high culture in appetites, desire in collective life, and politics in the body and its dispositions.
THE SEX LIFE OF FOOD: When body and soul meet to eat
A bubbling stew of food lore, presented with panache and a dash of humor.
Crumpacker, a pastry chef and cookbook author, sees food as sexy—e.g., red meat is masculine and so are carrots and bananas; dairy products are feminine, as are oysters and puddings. She finds a deep connection between the way we eat and the way we make love, and she writes joyously of this connection, arguing that if one wants to know what to expect of a prospective lover, he or she should just watch that person eat. Food and sex have been paired from our very beginnings, she says, and cooking can be seen as an act of love; even the smell of food is sexy. However, the food/sex theme occupies only a portion of her book. Almost anything to do with food seems to fascinate her: food eccentricities and phobias, the wide variations across cultures and among individuals in what are perceived as comfort foods, the history of dining out, the atmosphere of fast-food restaurants, the evolution—and decline—of table manners. She also focuses on the role of food in American politics: Herbert Hoover’s failed promise to put a chicken in every pot and Gerald Ford’s gaffe with a tamale wrapper are but two of the many anecdotes presented. She delights in finding character-revealing traits in Richard Nixon’s fondness for cottage cheese with catsup, Ronald Reagan’s for jelly beans and Bill Clinton’s for virtually everything. Even cannibalism in its various manifestations gets a close look from the author, who provides unexpected information on cooking methods and preferred cuts. For her discussion of vegetarianism, she turns to Hitler, recounting his exceedingly abstemious eating habits and disturbing fears about food, and concluding that he was as asexual as he was amoral.
“The sex life of food” doesn’t mean that the strawberries have fallen in love with the oatmeal. It’s a look at food–and sex–and how they go together in our daily lives much more often than we realize. There are so many ways that hunger and desire act on each other, and so many things that can influence our preferences. Not only are people moved by the taste, texture, and the shapes of the food they eat, but even the names of some dishes can kindle hunger–of both kinds–in some. As the author writes, “Sometimes cooking is foreplay, eating is making love, and doing the dishes is the morning after.”