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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Food and drink biodiversity

All the food we eat comes from animals and plants that are either still wild (e.g. seafood) or which have been domesticated. The process of domestication from wild forms started about 10 000 years ago in the Middle East and marked the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution, which not only influenced our eating habits but also our way of living. Cities started forming, social relationships changed (e.g. the formalisation of partnerships into marriages), populations grew, and land transformation to cultivated landscapes happened on a massive scale. Domestication meant that more food could be produced which led to surpluses. This meant that not everyone needed to grow or find food and instead some people could specialise in particular jobs (e.g. making clothes) and exchange their products or services with food producers. 

Nowadays the majority of people are not involved in the production of food and instead we buy it in shops. We tend to forget that all our food has wild origins and that new foods are still being domesticated from wild forms. For instance the Ostrich is in an active state of domestication at present. There is also the controversial genetic manipulation (GM) of plants and animals, which often involves taking apparently beneficial genes from one species and inserting them into another species. 

Only within the past 2000 years have people in southern Africa become dependent on domesticated crops and animals. For the time before this, people in southern Africa led a hunting and gathering existence and many continued this way of life after the development of agriculture and well into the 20th century. Even now, many people in southern Africa depend on wild foods for at least part of their diet.

The meals we eat are based on recipes that are passed on from one generation to another. See Bobotie for an example of how a recipe links to biodiversity.