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History of nutrition


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Throughout history, there have been a variety of diets mostly determined by what is available. However, in many cultures, a medical system arose that encouraged a varied diet. In fact, one of the most common medical prescriptions of the ancient world was a change in diet. This was based on observation and so while many of their theories as to why this worked wasn't entirely correct, the benefits and outcomes were advantageous. In the following text, I will cover a lot of medicine in the ancient world because at that time there wasn't a separation between medicine and food. This doesn't mean they were taking manufactured substances because in most cases they didn't have those.

China was one of the most advanced ancient cultures. They had a concept of a five elements theory. In this theory, people had five energy fields called chi. The fields corresponded to the elements of fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. As with all things they strived for perfect balance. All the elements have relationships with each other. Some boost the effect of others while others cancel out.

Taking this back to food, each food item is assigned one or more elemental amounts. The elements assigned to a food item could be based on how it grows, its taste, its color, or reasons unknown but passed down. I'm not an expert on this and I don't think you need to be to turn it into a fun game design. (overview)

After the greeks many cultures in europe, middle east, and north africa followed the dietetics first proposed by the ancient greeks. In this system, all food was assigned properties ranging from hot to cold and moist to dry. This was according to the four bodily humours popularized by Galen. The digestion of food was seen as a continuation of the cooking process. Easier to digest foods would be eaten first to start up the digestion process followed by increasingly heavier foods. This would continue until a balanced was reached.

The four humours were split into elements and qualities. Blood had the quality of moist and warm with the element air. Yellow bile had the qualities of warm and dry with the element fire. Black bile had the qualities of dry and cold with the element of earth. Phlegm had the qualities of moist and cold with the element of water. Where foods fell on the spectrum was mostly determined by taste. (overview) (the system in islam )

ancient India followed a system of charakas. This assigned food to a scale of elements: earth, fire, water, wind, and ether. This had a very long subjective process on how to measure how much of each substance was in a food item. If you'd like to read more about it. (overview)


Purposeful vegetarians

Greek vegitarians

Indian vegitarians

The benefits of these systems from a game point perspective include immersion, abstraction, flexibility, and arbitrariness. It takes the player from what they know and plunges them into a system the ancients used. This helps root the player into the fantasy. It's abstract and arbitrary enough that it successfully defuses arguments such as the need for dairy and meat while still allowing flexibility to make those optimal choices. For instance, the player could get all the elements they need from fruit and vegetables with very complex foods with specific spices, but dairy and meat may make acquiring a balance of nutrition easier so that it does not require complex meals.

This layer of abstraction also lets you do all sorts of interesting mechanics involving the elements. Want to tie it into enemy attacks, no reason you can't. Want to layer some complexity on top of it like effects from being out of balance? There's no logical reason why you can't. Goats milk and cows milk has two different elemental amounts? Why not? It frees the developer from the constraints of reality and allows them the freedom to balance the foods to how they fit within the game or the best play experience.

You'll notice that all the systems are very similar. There is no need to pick a particular one. You can craft your own version based off those. Maybe you like the idea of ether for energy from the India version and the metal element from the Chinese and want the 4 basic ones from the greek for a 6 element system. There's no reason you can't and it would still be based on these ancient nutrition theories.

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