Food is any nutrient-rich material eaten by humans and animals in order to sustain life and growth. It provides energy, keeps bodies working properly and helps keep their immune systems strong. People obtain their food by eating a wide variety of plants and animals, including meat, grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts. In the past, people hunted or gathered food from wild sources. In more recent times, they have cultivated crops to provide their own nourishment. Many people have become interested in cooking and preparing foods that are not only nutritious but also tasty and satisfying.
The first cookbook was published in England in 1561. Since then, cookbooks and recipes have continued to proliferate, and many of them have become cultural touchstones. Some are practical, offering advice on the best way to roast a chicken or bake a cake; others are artistic, demonstrating the skills of a chef or home cook. Some of them are even historical documents, revealing how meals were prepared in earlier times and providing insight into the cultural history of a region or nation.
Modern kitchens, with electric and gas stoves and refrigerators, have made food preparation easier than ever. As a result, the role of women in the kitchen has changed: men have taken over cooking duties and the food industry has geared up to meet demand, with magazines such as Esquire publishing a column called “Man the Kitchenette” in 1940.
Most nutritionists agree that a healthy diet includes a balance of different types of food as well as moderate amounts of fat, sugar and salt. It is important to choose low-fat dairy products and limit red meat consumption, as high intakes of these can increase the risk of heart disease.
A variety of chemicals can be added to food in order to improve its taste, texture and appearance or to ensure its safety. Spices, natural and artificial flavors, and sweeteners add flavor; thickeners, emulsifiers and leavening agents give foods the desired consistency and appearance; and preservatives help keep foods safe.
Although there is a sufficient supply of food to feed the world’s population, millions of people still go hungry each year. One reason for this is that the resources needed to produce and transport food are not evenly distributed. Another is that poor nutrition contributes to disease and death at all ages.
Diets vary widely around the world, reflecting a combination of geographic and cultural factors. For example, coastal populations generally eat more fish than those farther inland. And, in general, people living in cool climates eat more vegetables than those in warm ones, as growing seasons allow for cultivation of leafy greens that do not require long periods of heat.
Food is both an enjoyable pastime and a critical part of human survival. It has been a major force in world history, shaping cultures and encouraging social interaction as well as enabling economic development. In addition, it is both a source of pleasure and a vehicle for self-expression.