Things That I Know About Food


De gustibus non est disputandum.

1. M&M’s were originally developed for the U.S. Military. Chocolate and sugar = keeps you awake and alert and keeps you firing your gun at those damn Germans; “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” = your trigger finger doesn’t get sticky when firing a gun at those damn Germans. This is all totally true.

2. Frankly, I feel like the secret military nature of M&M’s could be played up more, as opposed to using those ads with the creepy talking CGI candies. “M&M’s! Whether you’re shooting at Germans, insurgents, or your own army officer, M&M’s are the candy for you. …M&M’s…. because it’s time to kill.”

3. Tiramisu is a desert that was originally developed for prostitutes in Italy. Again: coffee and sugar = gives keeps you awake and alert during the long night; cream = gives you stamina for the long night ahead. Tiramisu literally means “pick me up,” or, “make me happy.”

4. Croissants were created to commemorate the victory of the French armies over Turkey. The crescent shape of the pastry alludes to the crescent shape on the Turkish flag.

5. Schoolchildren invented the chocolate croissant by stuffing chocolate bars into a plain croissant.

6. In France, an éclair typically has coffee or chocolate-flavored filling, not cream filling as in the bastardized version sold in America.

7. An “egg cream” contains neither egg nor cream. Discuss. The proper ingredients for an egg cream are as follows: at the bottom of a pint glass, add one inch of milk; one inch of chocolate syrup (preferably Fox’s U-Bet brand of chocolate syrup). Mix the milk and the chocolate together, then fill the glass the rest of the way up with seltzer. Drink quickly.

8. Supposedly, pretzels were invented around 610 AD, and are meant to resemble the crossing of arms in prayer. Religious festivals are still held featuring pretzels in Southern Germany. Celebrants carry pretzels around on poles, or paint the image of a pretzel on the doorway of a loved one.

9. The ancient Romans were very fond of eating dormice (which are really more like squirrels), and also a paste made of rotten fermented fish guts.

10. A lot of the history of exploration can be tied into the history of food. The search for spices led to the expanding of trade routes. Warfare, too; the number of people who have died over spices is surely beyond calculation.

11. It took people a long time to come up with combining salt and pepper. Salt was easy; people have always had salt. The addition of pepper was a very late thing; pepper being rare (it comes from India, after all). So people tried lots of combinations; during the Middle Ages, salt and cinnamon was a preferred choice.

12. Ancient people boiled their meat, which is probably the grossest way to cook meat; we know this from comments made in ancient Greek plays.

13. The Reuben (hot Swiss cheese, corned beef, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut), is the only truly “invented” sandwich in the world, created by Reuben Kulakofsky, and entered into a national sandwich competition in 1956. Unfortunately, this information, which I was told many years ago for no real reason, is not actually true.

14. Thomas Jefferson introduced ice cream to America.

15. Honey never goes bad.

16. Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake.” “Cake” in this context could mean not actual dessert-type cake, but the mixture of flour and water that peasants used to clean their ovens. But she never said it, so it doesn’t matter.

17. Chocolate was originally just for drinking and was served bitter.

18. The common diet during the Middle Age was black bread, raw onions, and beans. (People were poor, obviously.) Meat was reserved for the wealthy, although some scholars disagree on this point.

19. The ancient Romans had fast food restaurants, which sold things like sausages. They were probably really gross, much like today.

20. This has nothing to do with food, but ancient Rome also had apartment buildings, which is a weird thing to think about; imagining a “Friends”-like ancient Roman sitcom in an apartment building like that.

21. In Greek mythology, the god Cronus eats his children.

22. Likewise, in the Greek play Oresteia, wicked Atreus tricks his brother Thyestes into eating the cooked flesh of his own children.

23. This concept comes up again and again. In a medieval play, a jealous husband kills the lover of his wife, cooks his heart, and tricks her into eating it. Upon learning of his deceit, she swears never to eat again, for she would never again “taste food so fair.” She then starves herself to death.

24. Actually, anthropology shows that all humans, of whatever line of descent, are descended from tribes of cannibals.

25. Anyway, depressing.

26. Anyway, moving on. Anyway, so! So, tomatoes were considered to be poisonous in America up until the 1800s.

27. Americans also thought avocados were poisonous until the 1920s; they were also considered to be communist for some reason. I could not learn why this was.

28. The “apple” in the Garden of Eden was definitely not an apple, but people are not sure what it was. A pomegranate? A tomato?

29. Saffron is the most expensive substance on earth. This is because it is a horrendous pain in the ass to harvest, and you only get very very tiny amounts of it. 150 saffron flowers will only yield you 0.035 ounces of saffron.

30. The emperor Claudius died from eating poisoned mushrooms; most likely they were poisoned by his wife.

31. His great-uncle, the emperor Augustus, died from eating poisoned figs; most likely they were poisoned by his wife.

32. The Roman general Crassus was killed by Persian rebels who poured molten gold down his throat. Gold isn’t technically food, but still.

33. The sandwich was supposedly invented by the Earl of Sandwich, who decided to put meat between two pieces of bread. He did this because he was so addicted to playing cards that he needed something he could eat while still sitting at the gambling table. Sadly, this story is completely untrue.

34. Sandwiches date back to ancient times, because bread + other food = duh.

35. Forks were not commonly used until the 18th century, and weren’t used until the 19th century in America.

36. People always used knives and spoons though.

37. But instead of forks, people just mostly used their fingers.

38. Food was commonly served on “trenchers” during the Middle Ages. Trenchers were pieces of stale bread. After you ate your meat off the bread, you then gave the juice-soaked bread to the dogs, or to the poor, which — depressing.

39. It is unclear why sundaes are named “sundaes.” Supposedly they were originally served on Sunday, at a time when liquor laws would not permit the selling of alcohol. Sadly, however, this fact is also untrue; no one can really explain the name.

40. Food was probably originally cooked by accident, by some cave-human who dropped in the fire and then realized it tasted good. Until then, everything was raw. Fire, likewise, was not a thing that humans figured out; very rarely, lightening would hit trees near a tribe, and the tribe would use the flaming branches to keep everlasting fires going.

41. …Or at least, this is what anthropologists theorize about fire and such; no one was really around to record it at the time. Such is the history of the world; stops and starts, mistakes. I mean, who among us would have thought of making bread? Of adding fungus to crushed grains and water? Such a crazy thing to do. In a way, all our history is the history of random mistakes — or brilliant invention.

42. So anyway.

43. Anyway, as before, the fact-y… ness of the facts presented in this list may vary. Some of the facts are very fact-y, some less completely and utterly so.

44. Moving on.

45. Moving on; so, Coca-Cola originally contained about nine milligrams of cocaine per glass. The cocaine was removed in 1903.

46. The inventor of Coca-Cola claimed that it cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence.

47. Dr Pepper does not contain prune juice, though it tastes faintly of prunes. The prune juice idea is an urban myth.

48. A mixture of Coca-Cola and “Pop Rocks” will not make you explode. This is also, sadly, an urban myth.

49. Throwing rice at a wedding and then having that rice be eaten by wild birds does not… make those birds explode. Once again — and sadly, though not sadly for the actual birds — this is an urban myth. Birds eat wild rice all the time; they do not explode from it.

50. The Mentos and Diet Coke thing totally works though.

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image – Evan-Amos