Technology & tax regulations impact food culture

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


Refind invited me to write a deep dive into the history of food, but some of the neat stuff I dug up from my notes didn't quite fit. Here's the rest of my notes, carefully gathered while trying to flesh out the cultures that populate my fantasy world, Verraine.

Quick Facts

Floral Foods

Ever since I wrote the Roses edition of this newsletter, I've been thinking about edible flowers. I recently started growing nasturtiums, and the leaves actually have enough flavor to count as a low-calorie snack. Fried zucchini flowers are eaten around the world. Some people make drinks from hibiscus petals. This article from Gastro Obscura touches on others.

Bugs & Blue Algae

Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans ate maize, a multitude of fruits and vegetables, and wild game like fish and turkey. Most of their protein, though, came from easy-to-harvest insects like ants, grasshoppers, manuey worms, and jumil bugs. They also ate lots of tecuitlatl, a type of blue-green spirulina algae. It grows fast, is high in protein, and is easy to harvest with mesh nets.

Taxes & Taxonomy

A surprising number of desserts (like shortbread and JaffaCakes) become popular because they're a way to skirt around tax laws. For example, adding a bit of yeast to something to make it count as "bread." Tasting History on YouTube covers this in more detail, but it's not a new phenomenon. There's also the opposite phenomenon, where too much sugar can recategorize bread into a more expensive cake tax bracket.

Technology & Taste

A culture's culinary choices are often dictated by technology. It seems obvious, when you think about it. After all, microwaves changed the dietary habits of modern-day Americans. But the development of pottery had almost as big an impact on Northern Sudanic people, who were able to eat oatmeal (which doesn't require grinding grain) instead of bread. (Source: Christopher Ehret's Civilizations of Africa)

šŸ“— ICYMI: If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my previous newsletters about clever ways the ancients made food last centuries, ovens, or taxes.

šŸ’š If you learned something from this overview, consider forwarding it to a friend and encouraging them to sign up for more research deep dives into obscure history and science.

šŸ‡ Do you have a favorite story about the relationship between technology, cuisine, and culture? Please reach out ā€” I'd love to hear about it, either via email or in a comment where other readers can see.


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