Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bored or Brave?

A quick wander around my kitchen reveals a few of humankind's most popular foods that we would now dread contemplating living without. Classic basics that are always in our place include milk, yogurt and cheese in the fridge; and coffee and honey in the pantry. It leads me to wonder: Who were the first blokes bored and daring enough to try these foods for the first time in human history?

Already this article will have alienated fifty percent of my reading audience with my brash assumption that the initial tasters will invariably have been men. It may be an overly broad generalisation, but contemporary TV shows such as 'Fear Factor' and the food eating competitions from 'Survivor' seem to feature men as the winners in these daring dining dramas.

Even my own father, who I once caught absent mindedly eating my cat's dried fish-shaped munchies from the bowl I'd left near the phone, continued to eat them after I, horrified, told him what they were. The masculine 'Jackass' within him burst forth and he got a great kick out of seeing the disgusted expression on my face. Therefore, I will go on to assume that even in pre-biblical times, blokes still had that mentality within them whilst us gals were too busy gathering nuts and berries with three babies strapped to our backs.

Alcohol. Who was the first guy willing to eat a piece of rotten fruit to see what it tasted like? Was it a dare made by his fellow neanderthals around the campfire? Was he facing near death from starvation? And, after eating this spoilt fruit, when did he notice that he felt rather warm inside and happier? After swallowing a few more squishy pieces, when did he believe that he was the strongest hunter; the best at draggin' the gals back to the cave by their hair; owned the most flints, did the funniest woolly mammoth impressions and started yelling instead of whispering? Sadly, we'll probably never know the answer to that essential question - not while the US is spending billions on jaunts to the moon and back in dodgy shuttles.

The little we do know about this chap really only goes as far back as 10,000 years in Mesopotamia, or Iraq as we now know it. Their first brews were made from date palms and news spread far enough for the Babylonians to write the first regulations about drinking in public houses and for the Egyptians to devise the use of straws to suck it down faster. Then of course the Romans went even further, and worshipped a God of wine - Dionysus (or Bacchus, if you were Greek). They worshipped this god in orgiastic binges of drunken excess and it's no surprise to read further on that they also built special rooms, known as 'Vomitoriums' to recuperate in before heading back out to the party for more.

Dairy Foods are even more puzzling. Historians attribute human reliance on other animals' milk to around 8,000 years ago when the Swiss and the African Masai tribe chucked away their pesky nomadic lifestyles and decided to form permanent settlements instead. They found that there was less wild animal food to be had and animal milk became a very important part of their diets as a result. OK, so that's all very interesting, but who was the Swiss chap and the African dude that, many thousands of miles apart, decided to have a go at lying under one of their pet goats, sheep or cows to have a wee suck on a teat? Seeing as date palm wine had been widely introduced to mankind about two thousand years earlier, perhaps it influenced their decision to try it....

What about yogurt? There's a legend that tells us that a young Turkish nomad noticed that his pitcher of milk wasn't looking too good after sitting out in the blazing 45C heat. (Not that he knew this, but it had been contaminated by organisms who thrived in the warm stuff). Despite the look and smell, he chugged it down anyway. He was apparently excited enough to tell the others of his tribe and by the 8th Century, it was known as 'Yogurut'. Bless him - was he brave, stupid, starving or lacking any sense of smell?


Cheese is the other classic food. Those date-palm-wine drinkin' Mesopotamians were still at it - they are also attributed with noticing that milk curdled in the heat and could solidify and taste different. Who was the poor sucker who had to taste the first batch? And as for later varieties of cheese such as blue vein, stilton and washed rind I have no doubt that the end product of fermented fruits would definitely have played a huge role in the foolhardy factor.

The world's highest traded item, second only to oil, is coffee. Where would we be without our morning jolt and excuse to meet up with friends? Apparently the first known discovery of coffee beans was around 850AD, which is relatively late for fearless food tasting. History has it that an Ethiopian goatherder named Kaldi noticed that his goats were - ahem - much friskier after eating them. This excited him enough to try them too and he ran back to his village and 'started to feel happier.' No details are readily available on which person ground them up and poured hot water over them, but I bet it was his wife who was trying to stretch her housekeeping budget a bit further and cope with a hut full of bouncing babies.



Meeeeaaaah Meeeaaaaah! Brazilian double roasted baby!


I'll conclude this piece with one of my favourite foods, honey. What lunatic, presumably not the full jug of date wine, would risk being stung on the face, hands and arse to clamber up a tree, wade through wax and slurp down this magnificent syrup?

These questions remain in the 'unanswerable' file, along with 'Why do men have nipples?' 'Who says Claire Hooper is funny?' and 'Tell me again what the purpose of a mosquito is in life's food chain.' Take heart dear male reader - without the bravery and stupidity of your forbears, we would be so much the poorer without these fantastic foods.

7 comments:

Chestnut Mare said...

I have pondered these very same questions for years. However, you didn't mention the biggie - CHOCOLATE. How DID they come up with that gem?????!!

LC said...

Then there are those that want to go that step further and do things like investigate whether or not the chocolate cookie-like espresso coffee remnants do taste as good as they look. You have some potential as a food discoverer/victim yourself!

franzy said...

I used to eat dog biscuits all the bloody time! What's the big deal? Mum and Dad actually stopped buying those special worming choccies because they discovered that I was 'sharing' them with the dogs every morning.
AND I'D DO IT AGAIN!

I probably wouldn't repeat my experiment with the delicious-smelling shampoo though ...

Kath Lockett said...

I'm sure that dog biscuits are entirely OK to eat - as well as worming chocolates - but... and it's a big BUT.... when you stop and think that they use the very worst of 'meat' ingredients (arseholes, eye sockets, poobags etc), would you REALLY do it again, Franzy?

If so, I want to see a blog article from you about it!

eleanor bloom said...

Love your idea of how coffee became a drink. See, women play a pretty good role! Men do the nutty part and then women bring it back to sensible and practical. For example, it was likely women who added vanilla and honey to make the yoghurt taste nice! And cleverly combined chocolate and coffee for a yummy mocha.
(Or... that's what I'll go along with at least.)

Oh, and re the milk thing. I can imagine the guy trying out his Mrs' milk first, then venturing to other udders. Or, some may have just been rather intimate with their goats...

River said...

Definitely food for thought there, Kath.
I'd say the milk drinking came about when a cave woman lost her milk or perhaps died in childbirth and another noticed an animal suckling her babies and copied. Either by putting the child directly to the teat or milking the animal and dribbling the milk into the mouth of the baby.

Kelly said...

Good battle, thanks!

When I saw who I was up against, and I read this post, I really thought I was going to lose this one. This is a really funny and interesting post, and it answers a lot of questions that I've thought about for some time.