Pick a food. Let’s say pancakes. Basic ingredients include flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk. You want sustainably sourced and fresh ingredients, yet each component has an ancient history.
Like human life, each of those ingredients dates to the beginning of the Cosmos 13.8 billion years ago, the star-bursts that resulted in our solar system, and the 4.5 billion years since our home planet, Mother Earth, started evolving! Like humans and all life, each has an approximate time frame woven within the story of Earth. Amazing, no? Over the centuries, humans created many religious ceremonies that require, and celebrate, food — both consecrated and not.
Here’s an overview of the stories of pancake ingredients:
Wheat is the result of several grass species that date to about 10,000 B.C.E. – 12,000 years ago. However, plant life first appeared on land between 495 and 443 million years B.C.E. Some research even dates it to about 700 million years ago. As Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us in Braiding Sweetgrass, “Plants were here first and have had a long time to figure things out. … Not only do they feed themselves, but they make enough to sustain the lives of all the rest of us.”
Baking powder is a dry chemical leavening agent, a mixture of a carbonate or bicarbonate and a weak acid. Use of modern baking powder began in the mid-nineteenth century, but a sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride solution was used over a thousand years ago in Ancient Egypt.
Salt was in general use long before the beginning of recorded history. The earliest known treatise on pharmacology was published in China around 2700 B.C.E. All life has evolved to depend on its chemical properties to survive.
Eggs commonly come from chickens — but some dinosaurs laid eggs, as do ostriches! Whether the egg or the chicken came first will remain a puzzle, as will the certain date of which one was first consumed as food. Chickens were eaten in China about 10,000 years ago, and in Europe in the first century B.C.E. Jungle fowl were domesticated in India by 3200 B.C.E. Records from China and Egypt show that fowl were laying eggs for human consumption around 1400 B.C.E., and there is archaeological evidence for egg consumption dating back to the Neolithic age.
Milk in the U.S. usually comes from cows that trace their beginnings to about 8000 B.C.E. People began drinking milk about 7,500 years ago.
Each of these components is threatened in our times. Among the problems are toxic pesticides and fertilizers, genetically modified crops, factory farmed crops and animals, land and water pollution, climate damages (droughts, floods, fires), mono cropping, and damage from mining.
Yet, even a poisoned and misunderstood Mother Earth tries to feed us, and many Earth-lovers respond by lobbying for better laws to protect her, by purchasing organic and fair trade food, by composting, by trying to save the bees and the butterflies, the soil and the water.
Care might increase if everyone better understood and valued the history of our food, the fact that everything we eat was living before it unknowingly “gave its life” for us, and our complete interdependence and “inter-being” with what we eat. The following poem, by Melissa Studdard, helped me do those three things:
I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast
—After Thich Nhat Hanh
It looked like a pancake,
but it was creation flattened out —
the fist of God on a head of wheat,
milk, the unborn child of an unsuspecting
chicken — all beaten to batter and drizzled into a pan.
I brewed my tea and closed my eyes
while I ate the sun, the air, the rain,
photosynthesis on a plate.
I ate the time it took that chicken
to bear and lay her egg
and the energy it takes a cow to lactate a cup of milk.
I thought of the farmers, the truck drivers,
the grocers, the people who made the bag that stored the wheat,
and my labor over the stove seemed short,
and the pancake tasted good,
and I was thankful.
I (Terri) add a grateful: Amen.
Beautiful! Thanks, Terri! As always, you weave together science and poetry to enliven our awareness. I also am grateful!
Thanks so much, Michelle. It started with that poem, which I love! It helps to have readers like you who appreciate connecting science and poetry!
I’m late in reading my emails, but your pancake “recipe” was unique – and awesome. Our foremothers and forefathers must have experimented with so many plants, eggs, etc.– discovering some to be cooked, some to ripen, some to be mixed with other elements…! Thank you for taking the time to help educate me a bit more!
Thanks for this wonderful comment, Am-Joyce! Makes it all worth while! XXOO
Another fan of science and poetry — and food — here and this is wonderful! Just shared it on Facebook.
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Many thanks, Betsey! As always, I really appreciate your comments and sharing — and everything you write! So far this hasn’t had many hits (about 140 so far), and I’m grateful to have more people read that gorgeous poem, if nothing else!