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 adjustments.
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 potatos, 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 fats1, 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 from animals kept for other purposes (such as labour, milk or eggs) which can no longer fulfill their primary function - animals grown specifically for meat require a significant investment in resources which, traditionally, were thought better used in feeding humans directly2. A very few cultures - for example the Eskimo - are obliged to use meat and/or fish as a staple diet due to ther 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.
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
- Bread - the sine qua non of food for many cultures.
- Fungus - which may be the beginning or end of food.
- Hot Dog - considered by many to be food.
- Iron Rations - product of man's long quest to make food keep for longer.
- Protein Item - when food goes industrial and utilitarian.
- Sherbert - food? Drink? Could be either…
- Soylent Soy - because humanitarianism is the way forward.
- Tank Meat - why grow an entire cow just to eat a slice off its butt?
- Camp Cook
- Food Chain
- Food Tropes
- Octodog Hot Dog Shaper
- Planet Farm
- Sweet Tooth
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.