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Basic Information

Food is any substance which, when consumed, provides nutritional benefit for the body. Traditionally the term only applies to solids and semi-solids with liquids consumed for the same purpose being considered drink instead. Most of this page will concern food as it relates to humans (since they are the main users of ArcanaWiki) … other species will need to make their own adjustments1.

As already implied, the main goal of food is to get nutrients into the body - these consist of proteins (nitrogenous compounds used to build body tissue and other purposes), energy (in the form of fats and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals which play a variety of important roles in the correct function of the body). As with any other fuel using device, a correct mix of fuels is required for optimum function … getting the mix wrong will usually lead to problems.

Food is also consumed for pleasure, psychological comfort and cultural or religious reasons, including social bonding. The appropriate foods for these purposes will usually clearly defined within a given culture and some cultures and religions either prohibit specific foods or restrict them to specific social groups (by age, gender, caste or other criteria).

For most humans, the bulk of their diet - and certainly the bulk of their energy intake - will be in the form of carbohydrates (mostly starches): this will usually be a processed grain from a grass (such as wheat, rye, rice, sorghum, millet or tef), although some cultures use pseudograins (such as buckwheat or amaranth) or tubers (such as potatoes, cassava or taro). Processing may simply involve cooking (such as rice or potatoes) or may involve milling and preparing as bread or porridge (wheat, maize, rye). Occasionally a substance such as taro will take prolonged treatment to make it edible due to native toxins. This core source of carbohydrate energy will normally be called a staple crop.

The other important crop to be considered is legumes (peas and beans) - these provide some energy and a valuable level of protein to the diet and also play an important agricultural role in binding nitrogen into the soil.

Concentrated protein is generally found wandering about in the form of animals - most meats provide a wide range of proteins and micronutrients (although some, such as rabbit, have significant deficiencies). Animals are also traditionally a good source of energy dense fats2, either in the form of milk, eggs and dairy products, or from their meat. For the majority of human history, meat has been very much a luxury food and a great deal of it has been obtained either by hunting3 or from animals kept for other purposes (such as labour, milk or eggs) which can no longer fulfil their primary function - animals grown specifically for meat require a significant investment in resources which, traditionally, were thought better used in feeding humans directly4. A very few cultures - for example the Eskimo - are obliged to use meat and/or fish as a staple diet due to the rigours of their environment. Such cultures will generally have significant evolutionary adaptions to cope with the diet - unadapted humans can manage to a degree but will often have health issues as a result.

Fats are also available from plant sources such as ground-nut and olive, both of which are traditionally massively significant in any culture that uses them.

The other main category of food is fruits and vegetables - these are plant products which, whilst they may have some protein, fat or energy value (especially in the case of fruits) are primarily uses for flavour, texture, appearance and as sources of micronutrients.

Herbs and spices are also added to food by most cultures to improve flavour.

Ironically, the starch based diet seems to be relatively recent in human history - dating mainly from the dawn of agriculture - and some authorities consider that humans function better on a "hunter-gatherer" diet with low levels of grains and a higher proportion of fruits, vegetables and meat. Consensus, however, suggests that the majority of the bodies energy intake should come from carbohydrates, with considerable supplements of fruit and vegetables and a restricted intake of meat and other animal products. All authorities seem to agree that a wide range of micronutrients is essential to long term health and that energy intake should be roughly equal to energy expenditure.

List of Food Items

See Also



Game and Story Use

  • Food should be an important part of any culture in your settings - and the transition from one culinary tradition to another should be important <ahem> flavour for your players. Feel free to develop signature dishes for cultures, cities and even key NPCs.
    • Any culture where food isn't important should probably be lampshaded - are they religious ascetics or trans(human)s on the verge of abandoning their material bodies?
    • Food taboos should also be an important cultural phenomenon - every culture has taboos of one kind or another related to food.
  • When worldbuilding, it's worth considering what a given culture's staple crop and how they prepare it - it will effect most aspects of their lives from the layout of their villages to their annual festivals.
    • For example, some crops - for example, wheat, provide a single large harvest every year (at least historically they did), which leads to a concentrated effort, the need to store the crop until next year and things like a grain based local currency. Rice, by contrast, often manages a couple of harvests a year, and potatoes can potentially provide a rolling crop which is harvested and planted over a large portion of the year. Obviously the "single big gamble" harvest is likely to generate more in the way of festival once complete, whilst having a harvest festival for a weekly crop would probably get old quite quickly. Potentially, a culture could have multiple crops and a couple of significant harvests - the Greeks, for example, relied on their wheat harvest, but the olive crop was also vitally important.
    • Also, a culture that doesn't have a grain-based culture probably won't make bread (and, come to think of it, rice, despite being a grain, is not baked to any great degree) … this will mean figuring out how they do consume it. You could, of course, also have a wheat based culture that have never invented baking and boiled their grain instead like rice (boiled wheat is within the European food tradition, but a long way behind bread).
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