Friday, September 28, 2012

Our Ancestors Ate Dirt

(Another little something I wrote ages ago.)


Our Ancestors Ate Dirt

I'm on the fence.

While I have significant respect for our ancestors, I'm beginning to think they might have been a little touched. Our generation has the distinction of inventions and enhancements related to computers, televisions, sporting equipment and the like. Our ancestors had a much more down to earth search to achieve innovation.
Somewhere along the way, in the very basic sense of the word, our ancestors determined various types of items could be subjected to oral consumption. In other words, they set the trend on what we eat. How they came up with some of this stuff can only suggest that a considerable number of inhabitants of our previous centuries were traipsing around sticking things in their mouths at every opportunity. What’s worse is that most of these culinary treasures first required a prerequisite digging around in the dirt. Perhaps it was instinctual.

If you have a toddler at home, try this little experiment. Place the little dickens in the middle of a freshly prepared garden patch. I’ll wager you have to wait all of two minutes before hand goes to a wad of topsoil, and rebounds right up to the mouth for a little sample. It’s instinctual, and our ancient ancestors were more in touch with those internal impulses. Simply put, the earlier the date, the more likely they were to eat dirt.

Take marshmallows as an example. Someone in ancient Egypt had the revelation to dig up the root of a Marsh Mallow bush. Now, these bushes grew to about six feet tall and could only be located in the salt marshes where salt water and fresh water met.
They weren’t something you’d stumble across while going for a walk. What I’d like to know is who was the first one to stick it in his mouth. If it were up to Freud, he would deduce that a majority of man’s greatest culinary discoveries were motivated by an oral fixation. Then again, Freud probably giggled like a school girl every time he saw a train enter a mountain tunnel.

Don’t misinterpret me here. I think it’s great that Egypt had their dirt eaters. Marsh Mallow root was used in Ancient Greece as a medicine for such things as sore throats, toothaches and more. Apparently, the original medicine was added to a sugar mixture, and the eventual transformation is what want-to-be pyromaniacs stick in campfires present day.

Root Beer is another one of those curious discoveries. Today, the name is so common place that few ponder the fact that genuine root beer, actually, involved a whole mess of stuff that you and I would spend most of our Saturday afternoon raking off our pristine lawns.
Charles Hires’ parents likely had to resort to tying the poor kid’s hands behind his back when he was a scrapper. For in his adulthood he’d stick anything in his mouth. The Hires version of “root beer” evolved from an herbal tea he used to brew in the mid 1800’s. He took his inspiration from “small beers” developed in colonial times. Such things as allspice, birch bark, coriander, juniper, ginger, wintergreen, hops, burdock root, dandelion root, spikenard, pipsissewa, guaiacum chips, sarsaparilla, spicewood, wild cherry bark, yellow dock, prickly ash bark, sassafras root*, vanilla beans, hops, dog grass, molasses and licorice fit the bill. My Border Collie eats grass periodically. I don’t see him getting a patent application anytime soon, however.

There are plenty of interesting examples of our ancestors eating dirt. The origins are steeped in medicinal qualities, spiritual enlightenment, vitality, and just plain curiosity. While a number of these risk takers were pioneers in a multitude of evolved products that we eat today, one has to contemplate the thought of the first person who stuck it in his mouth. There aren’t a lot of noteworthy new culinary delights discovered in present times. You might think that’s because most of the basic finds occurred many years in the past. I tend to think that Mothers are to blame. In fact, there is a simple phrase that has, no doubt, stunted the entire food discovery movement altogether. There’s nothing really documenting the exact date that the phrase was first instituted. However, I’ll go out on a limb and hypothesize that somewhere in the early twentieth century someone’s maternal instincts overcame a child’s internal impulses with the, now, coined phrase….

Don’t stick that in your mouth…you have no idea where that’s been.”

Now, about that five second rule…

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