Travel and Food

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About
Without travel, culinary history would have been very different. From the start, cuisines have been shaped as much by travel as by the local environment. By about 10,000 years ago, humans had colonized all the earth’s habitable lands except the Pacific islands, an accomplishment possible only because of successful prospecting for potentially edible plants and animals and ingenious ways of cooking them so that they were less poisonous and more digestible.
In historic times, the interchange of raw materials, techniques for processing, and ideas for finished dishes increased. One or two influential travellers—often missionaries, merchants, or military men—could and did change entire cuisines. They took with them seeds and slips of plants, dietary texts, processing experts, and cooks. With the help of their patrons—kings and emperors—the cuisines of influential regions such as N. China, N. India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean came to extend across entire empires, indeed by the 16th century across much of the globe including the Americas.