More than 19,000 years ago had your kids asked, “What’s for dinner," your answer may have been, “Oysters, snails, insects, eggs and emmer grains.”
Two thousand years later, emmer and barley emerged as the predominant wheat and principal cereals in the late Mesolithic to early Neolithic periods, around 17,000 BC. A 2008 study by Hacettepe University demonstrated that emmer contained “remarkably higher total antioxidant activity," contributing to improved health of our ancestors. They were wise to consume it. After 17,000 BC, emmer became the predominant wheat and it spread through the eastern world until 1,000 BC (a 16,000 year run) when it was replaced by the naked wheats we use today.
Of course, the Neolithic cornucopia wasn’t all about emmer and barley. Marrow bones, fish, squid, venison and even beer made their global introduction during that period.
Through 10,000 BC, food evolution became exciting. That’s when the world’s first fruit appeared: cherries. Within a couple thousand years, people were eating pigs, goats and lard. Lettuce made its first appearance around 5,000 BC.
Ice cream (yes, ice cream) made its global debut around 3,000 BC in China. Marco Polo (Great, great grandfather to either Ben or Jerry) is popularly cited to have introduced the concoction to the Italians, though the claim is somewhat Paul Bunionesk.
In the first century, fried chicken emerges in medieval Europe (sorry Kentucky). Beginning in the 3rd century through our present day, there has been veritable culinary explosion of breads, meats, fruits, vegetables and countless variations and blends of each.
In 1899 the commissioner of the US Patent office, Charles H. Duell, famously stated, “Everything than can be invented, has been invented.” Since that date, more than 15 million patents have been filed with the USPTO, many of which were food-related.
Chocolate molten lava cake was invented in 1991, the same year as turkey bacon. Portobello mushrooms and chicken nuggets are both inventions of the 80s. Pulled pork has only been around since 1977. Energy drinks (Red Bull) began in 1984 and the first ever protein powder (whey protein) emerged in 1930 by Schiff Bio-Foods.
Today there is an all-new, modern category of food being explored. The tag line is “100% Food Replacement." Utah-based Tsogo recently launched a smoothie powder that claims 100% total nutrition, and they aren’t alone. Tsogo also sells fruits and vegetables in freeze-dried form for longer shelf life to help mitigate global food waste. “Freeze-dried," claim the Tsogo founders, “is the future of fruits and veggies.” They are also betting that a complete-nutrition smoothie is the future of food.
So, the question looms: In a thousand years, will our posterity sit down to an enhanced meat-and-potatoes meal around a table, or will they simply sip their nutrition from a straw? 19,000 years ago, emmer and barley were the primary meal for most. 19,000 years from now, perhaps Tsogo smoothie powders will fill our pantries in a world where refrigerators are obsolete. What is clear is that the dominant food trend is a return to basic, simple and natural nutrition. Our ancestors survived on just a few items that provided complete nutrition. Perhaps the emmer eaters of the Neolithic period were more nutritionally progressive than we give them credit for.