The cibicultural epoch began, we may conjecture, some 30,000 years ago. One of the first advances in the direction of vegetable food culture was the storage of supplies to provide against seasons of dearth; a second was the protection of plants valuable as food, both of which agricultural foreshadowings are to be observed among the Australian pre-agriculturists. In the same way man had learnt to preserve and to store animal food long before he began to breed animals. Whether he cultivated plants or bred animals first we need not discuss, but it is certain that, in the New World at least, plants were first cultivated. In any case a great forward step was taken when man began to produce food artificially, when, instead of having to search laboriously for fruits, roots, and seeds, he took to cultivating them ready to his hand, and when, in place of spending long hours in the hunt which at best could yield but a very limited supply of animal food, he learnt to raise on his own account flocks and herds of oxen, sheep, goats, and pigs, and to breed birds of many varieties; and when, again, he increased his supply of fish by building fleets of fishing vessels.
The total effect of food culture has been to make man more vegetarian than carnivorous, inasmuch as it has increased the supply of vegetable more than that of animal food - a given acreage of land yielding far more of the former than the latter.
So far as agriculture is concerned the epoch under consideration falls into two sub-periods :
(a) The period of migratory agriculture, in which limited patches of virgin soil were planted, after little or no preparation, and abandoned for new ones when the harvest had been reaped. During this period man still remained a hunter, combining hunting and fishing with the desultory agriculture, and he still subsisted largely on the products of the uncultivated vegetable kingdom, some of which he cooked while others he ate raw.
(6) The period of stationary agriculture - our own - when the ground is carefully tilled, manured, rolled, and, if necessary, irrigated. At the beginning of this period man continued to obtain a certain proportion of his animal food from the chase, but most of it was derived from the animals he had domesticated and from fishing; similarly, while his vegetable food was obtained chiefly by cultivation, he still continued to use a small proportion of uncultivated vegetable food, eating it both raw and cooked. Even in Europe several species of wild plants and fruits are to this day gathered for food.
It is important to distinguish between the period of migratory and the period of fixed agriculture, for so long as the human community was wandering and occupied almost entirely with the food quest, substantial progress in any direction was barred. It was only when agriculture had become stationary - say some 15,000 years ago - and an abundance of highly nutritious vegetable food and, in some cases, of artificially reared animal food also, had been secured by the labour of a limited section of the community, it was only when in this way a large amount of the total sum of human energy was liberated and made available for other purposes than the food quest, that that complex division of labour which is essential to social progress became possible.
Now we have seen that cookery led the way to agriculture, and it may therefore fairly be claimed for it that it opened the road to all the subsequent great discoveries of man and may thus be regarded as one of his greatest.
It seems probable that man first cultivated fruits, next roots, and finally the cereals, the latter requiring more careful tilling of the soil than either fruit-trees or roots. The cereals are much the most important of the three classes, owing to the large amount of protein they yield and the readiness with which they can be stored. Thus their cultivation paved the way for civilization. Payne indeed holds that without it civilization would have been impossible, but he perhaps underestimates the fact that there are other highly nutritious and easily stored vegetable foods, among which the pulses occupy a prominent place.
Of the luscious fruits the most nutritious are the banana - which contains a goodly proportion of protein - the grape, the fig, and the date, all of which have been improved from their wild congeners almost beyond recognition. The food value of the cereals and the roots has been similarly augmented.
We have seen how the quantity of starch available for food increased with the introduction of cookery; it has been, of course, still further increased by means of agriculture, and starch is at the present time actually extracted and consumed in the pure state. Similarly with the supply of soluble saccharides - grape sugar, fruit sugar, and cane sugar. Before the agricultural period these were only available in comparatively small quantities which were derived mainly from the luscious fruits and from honey. With the progress of agriculture, however, and the cultivation of the date, fig, and banana, and in later times of the sugar cane and beetroot (from both of which cane sugar is now extracted in enormous quantities), the supply of soluble saccharide has reached astounding proportions.
From the beginning of the agricultural period there has been a progressive abandonment of raw vegetable food, the power of digesting which, after steadily waning during the previous diet epochs, has consequently still further declined.
Very few uncultivated vegetable foods are now eaten raw, and with the exception of the fruits very few of the cultivated varieties either. The tendency moreover is to prepare vegetable foods in forms exciting to less and less mastication. Vegetable food when boiled can be swallowed after less mastication than when baked, and when finely ground than when coarsely ground. Thus boiled suet pudding does not get so much chewing as unleavened bread made from coarse flour.
Nevertheless, some soft vegetable foods tend to excite mastication. Thus the mealies of the South African, and to a less extent the boiled rice of the Hindu, are so prepared as to give rise to considerable mastication; on the other hand, certain kinds of bread and biscuits excite very little. If we glance at the vegetable food of the English people at the present time we shall find that hardly any calls for mastication. Boiled vegetables are all soft, and most of our farinaceous food takes a liquid, pappy, pul-taceous, or spongy form, such as potatoes (often mashed), bread (mostly new and with little well-baked crust), bread and milk, rusks soaked in milk, porridge, gruel, milk puddings (rice, tapioca, vermicelli, sago), other puddings (butter, suet, plum), cakes (caraway seed, currant), scones, buns, muffins, crumpets, pastry, (in forms too numerous to mention), macaroni, blanc-mange, biscuits. Of all these only bread-crusts and biscuits tend to excite mastication, and they very insufficiently, for the crusts are often soft and not rarely avoided, and the biscuits are generally of a kind that readily crumbles between the teeth. The rest slide down into the stomach with pernicious ease, and afford little or no exercise for jaws or salivary glands. From the point of view of dietetics the present age may, in this country at least, be characterized as the "Age of Pap".
The general effect of agriculture upon man's diet has therefore been to accentuate the effects already noticed as following on the invention of cookery. There has been a further increase in the amount of starchy foods and, owing to diminished mastication and insalivation, an increase also in the amount of crude starch entering the stomach.