Today’s world may appear more homogeneous than ever before, but globalization hasn’t altered the unique history and cultural development specific to each region. On a micro-level worldwide, many aspects of life retain more traditional roots. But on a macro-scale, much of what makes us human has been shared throughout history.
Around the world, humanity looked to infuse survival with a bit of style. It wasn’t enough to eat or dress for survival – we also developed cultural institutions around culinary arts and textiles. In a similar vein, competitions weren’t always based on physical prowess but progressed to challenge the mind, as well.
Traditions like culinary arts, games, and textiles changed and developed incrementally over time. Today, all three industries have traversed international borders—from Korean-Mexican food mashups to silk fibers derived from spoiled milk to virtual table games. Let’s take a closer look at the incremental innovation behind these modern industries.
From the ancient days of mahjong in China and Ganjifa in India, card and board games have long been popular recreational activities. Combining elements of chance, analysis and competition, gaming is the battleground of the mind.
Slowly, over time, games and the culture surrounding them evolved—and not in predictable ways. For example, Lorenzo de Medici interwove gaming into poetry and artistic endeavors at the start of the Renaissance in Europe. Three hundred years later, the Earl of Sandwich invented sandwiches to keep his hands clean so he could snack while playing card games.
And three hundred years after the invention of sandwiches, gaming has evolved, with technology moving the industry online worldwide. Those looking to find a range of casino games can access virtual lobbies via web browser, via mobile device, and even with VR headsets.
Even for those interested in staying in this world, there are gaming centers dotting the globe. North America has hubs in New Jersey and Las Vegas, while Macau in southeast China remains the largest gaming center in the world. The Monte Carlo in Monaco may be the premier class of gaming, but Singapore isn’t far behind with its upcoming gaming market.
What began as a struggle for survival has since become one of the most lucrative global industries. In recent years, ripped jeans and leather jackets may have become the rage, but there are millions of people still wearing saris (India) and huipils (Latin America) and have been doing so for centuries.
Critical developments in textiles came with technology like the loom, such as the weaving of silk fibers in 12th China. And where production couldn’t be made quicker, it was made more expensive. Throughout medieval Europe and the Middle East, embroidery helped enliven basic tunics for the upper class. In northeastern North America, beads carved from wampum shells were used instead.
Dyes became a major driver in the early days of global trade, such as those from saffron spice and seashells like Murex. Today, industrial manufacturing has replaced looms and synthetic dyes have replaced natural techniques. However, the old ways remain important cultural markers, at least in terms of design—many are willing to pay extra for a ‘rustic’ article.
Culinary arts don’t just cover what people eat, but how and why they eat. Some foods are functional and nutritional enough to have survived centuries, like tamales (which date back to 5000BC). Pancakes and stew have also been around for a similar length of time.
Over time, culinary arts defined who could eat what—and with who, and when. For example, cultural changes meant that Persians before the 7th century considered foods like lizards, insects, and snakes taboo. Post-7th century, Persians considered beef taboo, instead.
Flavors also developed in relation to local culture. Broadly speaking, sour flavors are preferred in the East, while sugary snacks are big in the West. Over time, these preferences have blended and evolved (refer back to the Korean-Mexican example above). Today, food isn’t just about caring for the body or spending time with friends—it’s also about entertainment.
Similar to how games launched online, culinary arts have found their footing with major TV networks. From Netflix to Tastemade to Food Network to Twitch streams, people like to watch others cook and learn a few tricks. Some even start their own food blogs and create food tours, determined to bring the latest trends to their followers.