We could eat more than 50,000 of the Earth's plants. But so far we have concentrated on the ones that we can grow most easily, eat the most of, and get most calories and protein from. We have narrowed our main crops down to just a very few, and grow and export them all over the globe. So rice, maize and wheat have come to make up the basis of 60 per cent of the world's diet.
Yet many people do still grow and eat local foods, and we all have curious food cultures and customs that would surprise those on the other side of the world.
The main part of most diets is a starchy staple, such as the grains: rice, wheat, maize, millet, sorghum; or roots and tubers like potatoes, cassava and yams.
Rice alone feeds almost half the world, from India east towards Japan where the term 'to eat rice' means 'to have a meal'.
Wheat is made into pasta, noodles and breakfast cereals, and ground into flour to make breads, crackers, biscuits and tortillas.
Roots and tubers like cassava feed over a billion people in the developing world.
Yet the biggest crop of all is maize, the main staple in South and Central America and the southern parts of North America, and eaten all over the south and west of Africa.
Most diets are then supplemented with animal products like meat, milk, eggs, cheese and fish, though in very different ways. In communities in Africa where animal products are expensive, small amounts are used to flavour other foods. In western Europe, dairy produce is considered part of a balanced diet - but the traditional diet in China, Japan and Southeast Asia never included any fermented animal milk products like yoghurt, milk or butter. Instead their peoples developed fermented foods made mainly from soy beans - soy sauce and soy bean paste - and rely on them for a vegetable-based source of protein.
What is considered normal varies greatly around the world. Sometimes we eat things because we believe they are good forus: the British eat oranges when they get a cold while the Japanese believe miso soup can help with ailments ranging from bad digestion to cancer and heart disease. Deciding whether to sit at a table or on mats on the floor, to eat with fingers, chopsticks or knives and forks, to finish your meal or to leave it half eaten, can mean the difference between courtesy and insult in different countries.
Availability has prompted many cultures to eat local: mice in India, seals on the Canadian coast, kangaroo in Australia and guinea pigs in Peru. And people have also found substitutes to make up for a lack of food: women in central Africa and the southern United States eat clay to supply the extra nutrients they need when pregnant and breast-feeding.
Tastes and preferences in some countries may seem baffling - or even nauseating - in others. But then something unusual can be quite delicious. How would you like to try some of these?
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