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thatawkwardlurker
06-06-2013, 01:58 PM
So, some of my characters aren’t from the 21st century, and among the trials of trying to make sense of their insane temporal predicament and dealing with shock/homesickness, they’ll also have to deal with more basic changes, such as food.

My query is: what would be the effects on health, weight, overall appearance and disposition if a person changed from a gritty historical diet (Ancient Celtic, Song Dynasty Chinese, ect.) to the more varied, artificial and high calorie diet of 21st century western world?

Torgo
06-06-2013, 02:01 PM
I suspect they might get very sick, initially. Many of us have experienced the intestinal drawbacks of long haul travel - I think it might be even worse if you were to travel a couple of thousand years or so.

mirandashell
06-06-2013, 02:32 PM
And with the extra fat and sugar, they will soon put on weight and feel sluggish. Their digestive system will get slower so you will have constipation and/or the runs to deal with. And remember refined sugar is addictive. So there will be the rushes and the withdrawals.

ETA: Don't forget caffeine. The withdrawal headache can be absolutely crippling. Some people it's not so bad, for others it's disabling.

Pup
06-06-2013, 04:07 PM
Some random thoughts:

Unless their food choices are forced on them, I'd think they'd tend to eat what looked and tasted familiar. They might be surprised at the abundance of food, but if they could pick out familiar things, their diet might not immediately change to a high-sugar, high-fat one. A bowl of rice is still a bowl of rice, brown bread is still brown bread, and one wouldn't need to slather it with butter, sugar, cream, jelly, etc. if one didn't like it that way. They'd have their own "comfort foods," and might stick to them especially if suffering from homesickness.

On the other hand, if they were adventurous and wanted to experience the new local culture, or were so amazed at the abundance of food that they had to gobble up everything regardless of whether it disagreed with them, that would be different.

In general, though, I think they'd have it easier than going the other way, because modern food would be cleaner and safer. Think of people from first-world countries traveling to third-world countries--they get sick, but the locals have adapted to the local food and can eat it fine. However, the locals don't get food-borne illnesses when traveling to first-world countries.

Going from a high-fiber diet to a low-fiber or high-fat one might cause some bowel problems, but no more so than the stomach upset of suddenly switching to a high-fiber diet. But again, if everything tasted too sweet or too light, they might naturally gravitate toward more roughage and less fat and sugar.

I wonder if they might have stomach upset just due to the stress of shock and homesickness too, regardless of the food?

lalyil
06-06-2013, 04:44 PM
We are surrounded by sugar, caffeine and sodium nowadays more than ever. All these things will cause them to put on weight, feel sick until they get used to them as we all did, and also cause stuff like 'sugar rush' where they'll feel full of energy one minute and damn tired the next.

thatawkwardlurker
06-06-2013, 04:51 PM
Wow, I got a lot of good ideas. I do, of course, plan to have people get sick, since I'm trying to portray the concept of 'time travel' as gritty and realistically (insert studio audience laughter track) as possible with such an abstract, impossible concept.

I should probably add that their lifestyle will still remain largely active, though I do agree that weight gain and health problems and similar issues would be inevitable. It'd be a bit difficult to work this all in without ending up with an entire story on transtemporal diarrhoea.

I do like the idea of having an emotional dimension to this thing, and showcase parts of character's personalities via their choice in food and their opinions on the range of cuisine available. So thanks, Pup, for the idea! I especially like the 'comfort food' approach that could be included, I'm guessing homesickness usually compels people to eat mainly familiar foods?

Russell Secord
06-06-2013, 05:20 PM
One factor I'd include is the level of activity. Before cars and trains, most people had to walk wherever they went.Your time travelers would have to adjust to that by walking more than the "natives" or eating less.

Another serious issue is disease. Someone who lived before the great plagues, for instance, may have no immunity, while we take it for granted.

GeorgeK
06-06-2013, 05:21 PM
Most of the foods that they ate then are not even commercially available now depending upon where they land and who they talk to. Around here you can't buy millet, lamb, goat or for that matter not even raw milk, not to mention meade. Our rice is de-branned and polished, not in the husk. My guess is that they'd find cheese and nuts, maybe kebabs to be comfort food, and beer/wine because they're coming from an era of non-potable water, of course maybe water, clean water to drink would be fascinating.

If they get to a rural area they might like going to a mill where they can buy sacks of grain
"What kind of livestock are you raising there partner?"
"Nothing, this is for me."
"You can't eat that. That's animal feed!"

NeuroFizz
06-06-2013, 05:38 PM
Anal leakage.

Seriously, you don't have to make them sick to the point of requiring medical intervention. They could just experience uncomfortable symptoms that disrupt their actual and desired activities. A physical challenge doesn't have to be extremely severe to alter the actions and reactions of a character. So, going back to my initial statement, I can't think of anything that would challenge a person's day-to-day activities as much as the prospect of anal leakage.

wendymarlowe
06-06-2013, 05:58 PM
Disease would be a far bigger problem - think about pretty much every time cultures have first been introduced to each other, and how the natives end up getting decimated by smallpox or plague or whatever. They would also be disease vectors, since they're probably carrying things modern people aren't resistant to. Of course, there is modern medicine and whatnot, but how many doctors nowadays would be able to diagnose diseases from hundreds of years ago which are all but extinct nowadays?

GeorgeK
06-06-2013, 06:12 PM
Hey Boutica, have you seen this water closet they have? There's this magical water basin that changes the water every time you flip a lever. It's a great place to wash up and get a drink but I think that it was made by dwarves because it's only knee high.

mirandashell
06-06-2013, 06:30 PM
I have to agree that if they land in first world country, they will find it hard to find any food that looks familiar. Even lumps of meat will additives that they would never have tasted. And coming from so far back, their sense of smell would be better than ours. And I think their sense of taste would be too.

WeaselFire
06-06-2013, 07:09 PM
Look up the stories of Southeast Asian orphans rescued during and after Viet Nam. Lots of issues there.

Jeff

Pup
06-06-2013, 07:26 PM
I have to agree that if they land in first world country, they will find it hard to find any food that looks familiar. Even lumps of meat will additives that they would never have tasted. And coming from so far back, their sense of smell would be better than ours. And I think their sense of taste would be too.

I think though that there are degrees of familiar. Just because they can't find the kind of bread they're used to, doesn't mean they'd necessarily eat a pizza or candy bar instead; they still might choose some kind of bread, and be able to make choices that would be similar to the diet they were used to, as far as overall sugar, fiber, etc., if they wanted to. So there would be two things going on: one, noticing the changes in things ("the bread is so white and fluffy!") and two, choosing what agrees with them ("last time I ate a danish for breakfast, I got an upset stomach and it tasted way too sweet, so I'll just have a roll").

On another note, something else that would seem strange is having things available any time of the year, out of season.

Siri Kirpal
06-06-2013, 09:51 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Dissenting opinion here.

I'm a vegetarian, and I eat millet regularly, also fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, other grains, etc. Their diet will be more varied than it was, which will mean they'll have fewer problems with vitamin deficiencies, unless they go the really highly processed route...which they probably won't unless that's what the 21st century people are feeding them.

I had to make some major changes to my diet a few years ago and LOST weight because I wasn't sure what I could eat. That will probably happen at first.

You might take a look at how the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees fared when they arrived here in the mid-1970s. They found ways to keep their diet the same. Their children are larger than they are, but the disease rate did not go up.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

GeorgeK
06-06-2013, 10:44 PM
Regardless of what they eat, humans are opportunistic omnivores and they will adapt. Some might avoid the new foods if they are xenophobes and others who are more foodies might embrace it and never have the same meal twice. Within a month I'd guess any intolerances to be adjusted or adapted to.

Shakesbear
06-06-2013, 11:17 PM
Some of the people may get cravings for food they can no longer get. Craving can get really strong at times and cause mood swings.

CrastersBabies
06-07-2013, 12:35 AM
Disease would be a far bigger problem - think about pretty much every time cultures have first been introduced to each other, and how the natives end up getting decimated by smallpox or plague or whatever. They would also be disease vectors, since they're probably carrying things modern people aren't resistant to. Of course, there is modern medicine and whatnot, but how many doctors nowadays would be able to diagnose diseases from hundreds of years ago which are all but extinct nowadays?

I was thinking this as well. They might have boosted immunity from the diseases in THEIR day, but who knows how those micro-organisms have changed and mutated over the years. I shudder to think.

Then, there is processed sugar. There are pesticides and hormones. There are additives and preservatives and stuff that might make their bodies absolutely freak out. I honestly don't know.

Chasing the Horizon
06-07-2013, 01:15 AM
And coming from so far back, their sense of smell would be better than ours.
I just read a real account of people leaving the Congo for America, and according to them it's exactly the opposite. In the third world (or historical settings, I imagine) everything has an extremely strong smell. The food, the people, the towns themselves, it all smells. But in America, everything is scrubbed scentlessly clean and wrapped in plastic. They said it was almost like losing an entire sense.

heza
06-07-2013, 01:24 AM
Considering they will have access to a much more varied menu, you might consider whether any of them have or develop food allergies.

Xelebes
06-07-2013, 02:53 AM
Most of the foods that they ate then are not even commercially available now depending upon where they land and who they talk to. Around here you can't buy millet, lamb, goat or for that matter not even raw milk, not to mention meade. Our rice is de-branned and polished, not in the husk. My guess is that they'd find cheese and nuts, maybe kebabs to be comfort food, and beer/wine because they're coming from an era of non-potable water, of course maybe water, clean water to drink would be fascinating.

If they get to a rural area they might like going to a mill where they can buy sacks of grain
"What kind of livestock are you raising there partner?"
"Nothing, this is for me."
"You can't eat that. That's animal feed!"

HEre, you can get those things. What probably hasn't been mentioned is the food needed for religious purposes. Wulfhere not able to get his symbel ale, Aristobrontes not able to get his wine of Dionysos, and so forth.

Siri Kirpal
06-07-2013, 03:42 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Also: What are they using for currency? Do they understand money at all? What happens if they don't know those big bland buildings are full of food? And that they need to pay for it?

The movie The Gods Must Be Crazy addresses this one from the point of view of an African Bushman.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

frimble3
06-07-2013, 08:37 AM
Are they on their own, or do they have local people aiding them?
If they're in a major city and have someone local, from the Now, to explain things, and help them find stuff, they'd do much better than if they were just dumped on their own in a small town.
In a major Western city, I imagine they can find something that's similar to 'home', whether an ethnic restaurant, or a specialty food store. A 'whole-foods' place probably has a range of grains, with a little effort ethnic markets carry a range of unusual vegetables, and there are a range of bread-like products from around the world.
In a more rural setting... well, are any of them archers? Animals come in a few basic models, and herbivores shouldn't be that hard to identify. Ear-marks and brands, though, might be overlooked. :)
Or, in a big city, the local zoo:
Tears welled up in the hunter's eyes. Finally, he saw something that reminded him of home. And, he knew how to cook elk, as well. Or at least, the woman did. He hoped.

thatawkwardlurker
06-07-2013, 12:12 PM
Wow, loving this discussion - inspiration galore! Even for a few comedic scenes, haha. (Forgive me if I miss anything/anyone in this, I'm a bit overwhelmed by the amount of replies. This is what I get for diving headfirst into a forum site with no prior experience.)

The issue of disease has been touched on, as two characters die horribly from an undecided ailment before they discover that the same technology they used to travel through time also has various functions for healing and the like. Still, I'd always love more information on possibilities regarding that subject, too. :)

I'll definitely check out the sources suggested on the children in Vietnam and people from 3rd world countries, thanks very much for the suggestions! Esp. Xelebes' interesting note on religious food, I'll have to double check the cultures my characters come from to see if they have any sacred food they need.

Sorry for not mentioning this before, but I'll confirm that these poor people from the past do have assistance from people from the modern era - more specifically from Sydney, Australia, 2005 CE. However, they'd be avoiding hospitals thanks to the odd situation and their lack of paperwork/a decent explanation about their circumstances, and they'll still be taking regular trips back in time throughout the story due to plot.

Becky Black
06-07-2013, 12:50 PM
I think once they start tasting the sweet things we have they will quickly be hooked. Humans are a very sweet toothed bunch. Which wasn't a problem a long time ago before agriculture, as even fruit wasn't around all the time (and wasn't as sweet as modern fruit) honey was tricky to get hold of (who was the first person who thought "let's try getting the stuff that HUGE SWARM OF BEES makes." Bet they didn't get a lot of volunteers to join the first attempt.) A person coming from that to trying our corn-syrup laced diet would be getting the pleasure centres of their brains hammered like never before.

mirandashell
06-07-2013, 02:48 PM
Ah, if they are only visitors and not permanently stuck here, that changes things. The people helping them can advise on what food to avoid. Assuming they think about it. And the Travellers can head home if they need certain foods for spiritual purposes.

And there is a great comedy scene available if they get taken out to the Bush. I'm assuming they are not Australian Aborigines brought forward? So the first sight of a kangaroo should be funny.

mirandashell
06-07-2013, 02:49 PM
Becky - I know what you mean. I always think that the first person to eat an oyster must have been really really really hungry.....

cornflake
06-07-2013, 03:14 PM
I always wonder about the first person to eat a cured olive. Off the tree, olives are fairly well inedible. Who the heck decided to drop one in brine or its own oil for months and then fish it out and try again? It's not like pickling already edible things.

I have a lot of questions like that, heh.

Anyway, OP, if the people are from an ancient Asian culture, I think you've got more play. Here, and in most major cities (and certainly in parts of Australia), the heavily Asian areas, like Chinatowns, are festivals of traditional, very basic whole foods for sale. I can go down to Chinatown and walk around and buy tons of seafood right off the boat, birds with heads, feet, etc., attached, specialty produce not easily found in markets outside of Chinatown, etc. So if your characters found their way someplace like that, it might seem much more like home. Chinatown here has markets that spill out onto the street and stuff too.

I had a couple of other thoughts - cooking is different. Even if they're in a city and find whole foods, basic produce and meats and whole grains like they're used to, they're not likely cooking it in the same way with the same implements they did at home. Ovens, electric or induction cooktops, nonstick pans, grills, microwaves, toasters, toaster ovens, electric kettles, panini makers, etc., etc., etc., up through, I dunno, coffee pod things, microwave popcorn, dishwasher - it's all weird and fraught with peril.

There's a little scene in the movie Kate & Leopold (in which Hugh Jackman (Leopold) travels in time from the 1800s to the present and ends up in Meg Ryan's (Kate) neighbour's apt. - it's cuter than it sounds, really) in which Leopold tries to make toast. The fire alarm goes off and Kate rushes in to find him with burnt toast slices scattered everyplace. He rants about how it's meant to make toast, but pushing the lever down once produces warm bread, twice produces charcoal and it clearly requires one and a half cycles but there's no way to do that and you'd think the General of Electric would have tested this appliance! Kate responds by ranting back that yes, you have to push the toast down twice and then take it out before it burns but everyone does that and we just do, so deal! He was only a hundred or so years out of date.

The other thing I thought of was a scene from one of the documentaries about the Lost Boys of the Sudan I saw a long time ago. They're boys ended up orphaned in the conflict there who were brought to live in the U.S. with host families. The documentary (I don't remember which or when or anything, sorry), followed a couple of the boys, with an aunt or something, to a supermarket in the midwest. They'd never seen anything even remotely like it. They just stood, staring and ended up all quite disturbed. It's a different situation than yours (obviously) but the level of abundance and choice and the easily accepted availability of such vast quantities of food really upset them. We don't even think about it, and they'd had to spend so much of their time going without, worrying, hunting for anything, that it just seemed to come off (understandably) as obscene. Depending on your characters, I could see some kind of maybe eventual annoyance with the way people take it for granted.

Siri Kirpal
06-07-2013, 09:43 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"---a Sikh greeting)

I regularly give thanks for the brave soul that figured out artichokes are edible for humans if cooked.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Liralen
06-07-2013, 10:45 PM
Don't forget about the effects of hormone and antibiotic laced foods, as well as herbicide and insecticides that they wouldn't realize had to be scrubbed off.

Pup
06-08-2013, 01:34 AM
Don't forget about the effects of hormone and antibiotic laced foods, as well as herbicide and insecticides that they wouldn't realize had to be scrubbed off.

Would any effects show up after just a few meals, if it all? From what I've read, any effects of hormones and antibiotics would show up in long-term statistical effects (http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/factsheet/diet/fs37.hormones.cfm), not anything an individual could notice.

Though it's true that they'd think that if something looked and smelled clean, it was clean, what are the odds that they would get noticeably sick from herbicides or pesticides after eating a few meals of grocery store produce that they didn't wash?

If I read a novel in which time traveling characters were suffering noticeable reactions to antibiotics, hormones, herbicides or pesticides in modern food after a few meals, I'd suspect the author of promoting an agenda more than introducing a realistic reaction.

Though that does make me think of something else: I think they'd be amazed at how "perfect" all the vegetables and fruits in stores were--no insect or disease damage, all equally ripe, large sized, clean and unwilted.

mirandashell
06-08-2013, 02:44 AM
Yeah, the hormones and pesticides and what not would show effects that early. It would be the fat and sugar that would effect them much quicker. There would be some mad mood swings for the first few days at least.

ECathers
06-09-2013, 12:32 AM
If they're traveling back and forth, what stops them from bringing their favorite foods into the 21st century with them?

I can easily see them returning from home with a "special treat" for their friends in the future. Lark's tongues or "Mom's special haggis recipe" or something else that might make the average modern human quail.

Unless you're in a small town, the amount of different produce and grains available in markets (don't forget ethnic shops too) should easily give them food they can recognize or at least looks somewhat familiar. I have several sources for millet, bulger wheat, etc within a couple miles of me.

They might be suspicious of tomatoes, eggplants or many other red and purple vegetables (especially New World ones) since red and purple berries/plants are often poisonous.

Another source of marvel might be, "How do they store so much food and keep the vermin out?" It's possible that they even look at mealmoths and wevils, as extra protein and flavor.

They might have some challenges adapting to modern cooking methods, but their modern host should be able to help with that rather quickly. Their host also may need to explain that her pet cat/dog/guinea pig is NOT being fattened up for a special holiday feast.

ETA: The one that really freaks me out is kombucha. What wackjob was the first to say, "Let me put this slimy gelatinous mushroom-looking thing in my tea. Then I'll let it ferment for a week and drink it."?

L M Ashton
06-09-2013, 03:58 AM
Getting back to the disease thing...

I'm from Canada and the husband is from Sri Lanka. We met over the Internet and I flew to Sri Lanka to meet and marry him. We were both sick from one cold after another for the first year or so. Constantly. We both have immunity for the colds we had before, but are also carriers for those colds, so we'd pass those germs back and forth with a vengeance. And anyone else I had regular contact with would get colds from me, too, but to a far lesser extent than the husband.

They'll likely experience this, as well, until their immune systems are caught up. And anyone with close contact with them will get more colds than usual, too. And they'll bring back the cold germs to the past, so those people will get sick more regularly as well...

thatawkwardlurker
06-12-2013, 12:46 PM
Thanks so much for all the great information, guys! I'm definitely going to use all the tips on disease and nutrition.

Menyanthana
06-20-2013, 03:04 PM
If they can decide what they eat, I'd expect them to (at first) eat what they know and what is very expensive and hard to get in their own time - honey, for example. Maybe meat.


Keep in mind that domesticated fruit species have changed a lot over time; apples and pears and peaches are not today what they were in the Middle Ages and before. Modern strawberries are a result of crossbreeding with American species; Ancient Celtic people might not even recognize them as strawberries.

Blueberries are another example; I was quite shocked to find out that, other than the wild (European) blueberries I knew, cultivated (American) blueberries are not only bigger, as common for domesticated species, but are white inside.
If you go and buy blueberries in a supermarket, you probably get the white-inside species. Which also tastes bland, in my opinion.

LHGalloway
06-26-2013, 08:18 AM
Sorry if it's a bit late to chime in. My daughter was born in South Africa, and when I first took her to NY at age 5, she told me that American grocery stores smelled terrible. She complained a lot about the food (everything from pizza and bagels, to things like steak and fish and humus, which she regularly ate at home). I think she smelled the plastic and cardboard packaging it was wrapped in?

My other half was shocked by the sheer number of choices in the shop, and stood in the canned soup section in awe.

Where we live now in NZ, the kids come from dairy farms and are all used to unpasteurized milk. Many won't drink the store bought kind, and can taste the difference straight away.