Diets and civilizations

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,601
Florania
I once asked whether potatoes can be a staple or not on Baidu forum. If someone is curious, my Baidu tieba nickname is 量子计算姬 (The quantum computing lady).
One person claims that only wheat eating cultures develop sophisticated civilizations, and rice eating cultures are physically weak, relatively short, and less robust.
Potatoes contributed to the establishment of the Inca civilization, and corn and amaranth seeds contributed to Mesoamerican cultures.
Do staples have anything to do with cultural development?
When did animal products become common in diets? Did it help the acceleration of cultural development?
 

Tsar

Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
2,010
Serbia
Wheat was hardly a common staple food in Europe. Prior to the end of the 18th century, wheat was commonly mixed with rye and barley in whole Europe. Spelt was a staple food in parts of Italy, Alsace, Palatinate, Swabia and Swiss uplands, as well as Gelders, Namur and around the Rhone. Millet was even more popular: Venice, Dalmatia, Levant, Balkans, Gascony and so on (millet was the staple food in early modern Serb history). Rice was also quite popular: Majorca, Valencia, Lombardy, Piedmont, Balkans. You can find even weirder examples: in early medieval Bohemia, peas provided the staple diet.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
I once asked whether potatoes can be a staple or not on Baidu forum. If someone is curious, my Baidu tieba nickname is 量子计算姬 (The quantum computing lady).
One person claims that only wheat eating cultures develop sophisticated civilizations, and rice eating cultures are physically weak, relatively short, and less robust.
Potatoes contributed to the establishment of the Inca civilization, and corn and amaranth seeds contributed to Mesoamerican cultures.
Do staples have anything to do with cultural development?
When did animal products become common in diets? Did it help the acceleration of cultural development?
It wasnt eating rice that made rice eaters short, but that a lack of other protein in their diet, and other nutrients. The areas that grew rice tended to have high population densities, and not a lot of land could be devoted to raising animals that would provide more protein. Rice is a very productive crop, more than most other crops,, but it doesn't have all the nutrients that a person requires.

Domesticated animals are as old as agriculturd, but a given plot of land can produce more food growing wheat or rice than raising animals in the same amount of area. Animals can be raised in areas that wouldn't be as suitable for raising crops. Cattle raising was done a lot by people who had lower population densities. With lower population densities, the population could rely on more meat in their diet.

I read that the need for water irrigation projects to support wheat growing in Medopotamia helped contribute to the early rise of civilization in that region. In a somewhat dry area, irrigation could increase wheat production, but to build and maintain these irrigation projects required organizing society on more than a simple.village level. Agriculture can support larger populations than hunter gather societies, although hunter gather societies tend to have more diverse and healthier diet. The greater numbers of agriculturalist gave them an edge in any conflict.

Because cereals like wheat and rice are more productive, yielding more food per acre, they tended to have become the main crop. Often climate determined which crop would be the main crop. In Europe, in northern areas, more rye, barley and oats were grown, since they grew better in colder climates than wheat. In warmer, wetter areas, rice grew better. Potato could and did support a civilization same as wheat or rice or corn.
 
Last edited:
Aug 2016
977
US&A
I once asked whether potatoes can be a staple or not on Baidu forum. If someone is curious, my Baidu tieba nickname is 量子计算姬 (The quantum computing lady).
One person claims that only wheat eating cultures develop sophisticated civilizations, and rice eating cultures are physically weak, relatively short, and less robust.
Potatoes contributed to the establishment of the Inca civilization, and corn and amaranth seeds contributed to Mesoamerican cultures.
Do staples have anything to do with cultural development?
When did animal products become common in diets? Did it help the acceleration of cultural development?
Sophisticated cultures may have any sort of staple food. The Mississippian culture was another that relied on corn as well as squash and gourds. According to this link, they suffered from various health issues as a result of having little protein.
Native Americans:prehistoric:Mississippian:Economy:Food
I haven't heard of wheat being more nutritious than rice. They are better at different things.
I think cultures tend to be defined by their staple good as well as many other things.
Humans have always eaten animal products. We ate them when we were home erectus and austrolopithecus. They have always been common parts of our diets except for a few who choose not to eat them.
I think of culture as something all humans and even some animals have. I am confused by the concept of cultural acceleration. I feel like culture is something that can't really be measured. I am not sure if you are referring to something like societal complexity. I guess that comes with large and dense populations. Staples like corn, wheat, and rice greatly aid in this.
 
Last edited:

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,519
Las Vegas, NV USA
I firmly believe any civilization worth the name would have invented some form of noodles or pasta.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Olleus

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,675
Wheat eating was more common in northern China than in Europe for long period so the person on Baidu has an ignorant opinion. There are some staple crops that provide less nutrition than others but most of human history people ate far more diverse foods than we do today.

The example of corn being less complete protein for Meso American culture is interesting as I just saw an article addressing that subject with recent discovery of a fungus that commonly grows on stored corn actually able to provide missing proteins and perhaps part of the reason why few skeletons of Meso Americans shows signs of protein deficiency despite lack of known other nutrients.

Agriculture society tends to create the most surplus and thus can specialize more members and organize more effectively. The methods to enhance crop yields are easier in flat river valleys and methods to counter flooding of same areas also give more reason for organization with long term goals to develop.

The other side is that problems with soil loss/salinity/rainfall hit the drier numore responsive to cultivation lands more readily. Europe once forests were cleared and swamps drained had more predictable harvests though obviously bad years could still happen the amount of variance was less while also need for cooperation to sustain harvests was lower allowing many small organization to develop and compete with methods of organization compared to some of the ancient center of civilization.

River valleys in East Asia where China now exist had similar results after control of flooding was enacted with major difference that the threat of foreign invasion was nearly constant and from 1 direction (northern nomadic) which encourage the centralization of defense under single authority to a higher degree than happen in Europe which faced invasions from multiple directions.
 

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,601
Florania
Sophisticated cultures may have any sort of staple food. The Mississippian culture was another that relied on corn as well as squash and gourds. According to this link, they suffered from various health issues as a result of having little protein.
Native Americans:prehistoric:Mississippian:Economy:Food
I haven't heard of wheat being more nutritious than rice. They are better at different things.
I think cultures tend to be defined by their staple good as well as many other things.
Humans have always eaten animal products. We ate them when we were home erectus and austrolopithecus. They have always been common parts of our diets except for a few who choose not to eat them.
I think of culture as something all humans and even some animals have. I am confused by the concept of cultural acceleration. I feel like culture is something that can't really be measured. I am not sure if you are referring to something like societal complexity. I guess that comes with large and dense populations. Staples like corn, wheat, and rice greatly aid in this.
Cultural acceleration here means technological explosion or accelerated cultural development, such as the development of the European Renaissance or industrialization of China after 1976.
 
Aug 2016
977
US&A
Cultural acceleration here means technological explosion or accelerated cultural development, such as the development of the European Renaissance or industrialization of China after 1976.
Well, it sounds like having access to lots of food would definitely help with that sort of thing. As long as a person is getting enough to eat, I dont see much variance in how intelligent they are depending on what nutrients they consume. I'm no expert though.
 
Oct 2016
1,157
Merryland
with a handful of exceptions (Mongols) major groups of people have always had a starchy food base. wheat, rye, barley, oats, rice, maize corn, potatoes; often a combination.
at some point Native Americans figured how to nixtamilize corn, treating it with ashes or burnt shells to unlock certain nutrients. (People who eat corn without this suffer pellagra and similar conditions.)

Native Americans had corn and potatoes; also amaranth and quinoa as a grain/starch base. in some northern parts, Wild Rice (which actually isn't a rice at all).

the globalization of foodstuffs makes a fascinating story. what would Italian cooking be without the Tomato? East Europe without the Potato?

most NAs grew and dried corn, beans and squash, the 'three sisters' of the Americas. all three dry well and combine for excellent nutrition.

protein added from fish (where available) and game (deer, elk, moose). In Southern parts the turkey was domesticated, as was the guinea pig.

(and, in some cases, dog)
 
Last edited: