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Sat Jul 25, 2020, 12:43 PM

What did our food look like hundreds of years ago? Art history may have the answers


What happens when a plant geneticist and an art historian walk into a museum together? They come up with a new idea for tracing the visual evolution of our plant-based foods.

The fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds we cook with all originate from wild ancestors that were once domesticated, cultivated and improved over the millennia. Growers honed in on different textures, flavors, appearances and varieties that were more appealing for human consumption and agriculturally efficient.

But what did our food look like hundreds of years ago? For a few decades, plant geneticists have studied the historical genetic composition of modern foods in several ways, highlighting certain genetic mutations that were responsible for transformations in appearance.

These approaches haven't offered many answers for what some plant-based foods actually looked like, according to an article published Tuesday in the journal Trends in Plant Science.

So worldwide art collections, the old-time equivalents of the modern-day photograph, might serve as a massive historical database of how modern plant foods have fluctuated in their looks. And they're asking the public to send in what they find.


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