Brian Aldiss on Food and Civilization

In the years of the Han emperors in China… the Chinese perfected the crossbow with which to defeat the barbarians. The barbarians did not have the skills necessary to cast the bronze locks the crossbow requires. With the barbarians taken care of, a time of peace prevailed within the newly united states of China.

So from this crossbow developed one of the great aculturing factors by which civilisation itself is judged. I refer to the restaurant–and here I am guessing. But imagine the confidence, the civility required for people first to come to a strange table, possibly in a shady courtyard in Loyang, and to sit down with others whom they do not know, or only remotely know, without fear of being attacked or stabbed. An unknown chef then serves food, which they eat without fear that it may be poisoned. It’s a revolution! The restaurant opens a new era in social relationships. In those remarkable circumstances, one not only eats, one converses. And from conversation new ideas are born.

In China and now in the west, cuisine is a fine art, while in other parts of the world millions starve. Is this unfair? Of course. And what is unfair is often beyond remedy, in continents as in families. We have trouble grasping this simple truth, and invent gods and economics and trade practices to try to disguise it.

Brian Aldiss in The Guardian

So the next time you’re out for a meal, raise a glass to the military-industrial complex?