The Joy
of Food
National Geographic Magazine
The Joy 
of Food

The Joy of Food

Food is more than survival. With it we make friends, court lovers, and count our blessings. The sharing of food has always been part of the human story. From Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv comes evidence of ancient meals prepared at a 300,000-year-old hearth, the oldest ever found, where diners gathered to eat together. Retrieved from the ashes of Vesuvius: a circular loaf of bread with scoring marks, baked to be divided. “To break bread together,” a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, provoke laughter. Children make mud pies, have tea parties, trade snacks to make friends, and mimic the rituals of adults. They celebrate with sweets from the time of their first birthday, and the association of food with love will continue throughout life—and in some belief systems, into the afterlife. Consider the cultures that leave delicacies graveside to let the departed know they are not forgotten. And even when times are tough, the urge to celebrate endures. In the Antarctic in 1902, during Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery expedition, the men prepared a fancy meal for Midwinter Day, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Hefty provisions had been brought on board. Forty-five live sheep were slaughtered and hung from the rigging, frozen by the elements until it was time to feast. The cold, the darkness, and the isolation were forgotten for a while. “With such a dinner,” Scott wrote, “we agreed that life in the Antarctic Regions was worth living.”  Victoria Pope

Picture of Afghan women sharing a meal

Afghan women share a meal of flatbread, goat, lamb, and fruit in the Women’s Garden, a refuge for conversation and confidences outside the city of Bamian. The garden and surrounding park were created to promote leisure activities for women and families­. For this group it includes the chance to bond over food.
Lynsey Addario, Reportage by Getty Images

“I got to thinking … about all those women on the Titanic who passed up dessert.”  Erma Bombeck

Picture of people eating watermelon slices at a picnic

In this 1894 photograph of an outing in the Maine woods, watermelon slices resemble oversize grins. Medieval hunting feasts and Renaissance outdoor banquets were precursors of the picnic, but the activity gained currency after the industrial revolution as a short, economical excursion.

“With good friends…and good food on the board…we may well ask, When shall we live if not now?”  M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Picture of nuns making marzipan sweets

The Sisters of the Visitation near Beirut, Lebanon, use a paste of almonds and sugar to make marzipan sweets, typically eaten around Easter. Foodstuffs are often a source of income for holy orders; the Trappists, for example, sell beer and cheese. These Maronite nuns make candy shaped like birds and flowers.
Ivor Prickett, Panos pictures

“I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant.”  Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Picture of a child eating porridge

Four-year-old Seraphin Eskildsen is immersed in a bowl of porridge at his home in Denmark. For many, a favorite childhood food summons fond memories. Chef Jacques Pépin’s was a baguette with a square of dark chocolate. For Julia Child, it was a vanilla-and-chocolate ice-cream sandwich.
Joakim Eskildsen

The magazine thanks The Rockefeller Foundation and members of the National Geographic Society for their generous support of this series of articles.