From savored meals at the home to fast food from airport terminals, the way in which humans consume and share food has evolved over thousands of years and continues to evolve today. Cofounder of the National Farm Workers Association and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez once said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
What could be seen as an evolutionary risk, giving away our most valuable resource, has shifted over time to become a customary, central part of who we are and how we live. Modern society revolves around a complex system of food production and distribution, so much so that the colossal industry comprising how we eat sustains more than 9.5 million jobs and more than 600,000 restaurants in the U.S. alone. There are books, experts, TV shows, networks, all dedicated to food—its preparation, flavor, and presentation. And the majority of these resources assume that whether your culinary adventure is crafting a simple dish in the comfort of your kitchen or securing a reservation at an exclusive restaurant, you will be sharing the experience with others.
What persuaded our species to share food when food was scarce? Did that lead to it being taboo to eat dinner alone at a fine restaurant? The evidence is scattered and complex with the reality buried deep in our bodies, our psyche, and our very genes. Before we can understand our modern relationship with food, we need to explore how we arrived here in the first place. And our first stop will take us tens of thousands of years into the past.