How do we, and other animals know what is food vs. not food?

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I’m imagining that no one showed the first humans (or other animals) what was edible and what wasn’t. So how did we discover that the things that we consider food are indeed food and not end up munching on random things and wondering why it wasn’t satisfying? Was it trial and error or do we have something built in us that helps us recognize things as food?

In: Biology

7 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Actually yes, it was simply trial and error. “Paul died eating that plant with the red leaves, so nobody else eat that one”

“Actually Marty cooked that one first and he didn’t die.”

“Oh cool!”

I’m not joking. That really is how we learned

Anonymous 0 Comments

Thog eats something red from that plant. Thog gets sick. Everyone knows not to eat that thing any more.

In addition to trial and error, there is the fact that our sense evolved to find food pleasing (smells and tastes good), because people who liked the flavor of poisonous things didn’t live long enough to procreate.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Instinct developed over trial and error. 
 We have evolved ways for our Brain to help us identify things that are probably food. Like the bright colors of fruit being appealing to us. 

 So, yea, way back when with some ancient ancestor, yea, they were just munching away on random stuff. And then those that more often successfully munched on useful food passed on their genes while the other ones starved to death.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Part of it is early humans and their grandcestors observing what animals ate, and followed suit.

The deer eating the new shoots on the trees? Must be good. The lions tearing out the gazelle’s liver and heart? Ditto.

We don’t know how many of our forefathers ate the green berries and died, because there are no written records back that far. But you can presume that someone saw this and reported back that those green berries are no good.

Anonymous 0 Comments

With your senses. Visually, for humans, Red is appetizing, green is the opposite. Taste is the most important, Bitter food is toxic (try eating a random flower). And obviously smell. Feeling helps a bit. Also if you eat a random berry and it happens to be toxic you won’t die. Almost nothing will just kill you after 1 try. Your body will probably vomit if you ate something bad anyway, and in the future if you sense that food again your body will be less encouraging to eat that food since it knows its bad, and as a human you can obviously learn not to eat it as well.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Humans and other species didn’t just show up one day with no parents or grandparents or older community members to show them what to eat. We are from a long long line of many species that all kind of fade gradually from one species into a new one, branch off, come back together, and transmitted knowledge from one generation to the next throughout time.

That doesn’t mean that there was no room for innovation. Humans and other animals learn from watching each other, they learn by looking for similarities to things they already eat, through trial and error, and sometimes just out of sheer desperation.

Our bodies have also evolved some ways to help us figure out things that are good for us vs things that are poisonous. Usually things that taste good to us are things that won’t be poisonous. Things that taste bitter or disgusting tend to be things that will make us sick. Sometimes, someone ate the wrong thing and it tasted gross and they spit it out and told everyone to avoid it, or it made them a little sick but there isn’t a lot of other stuff to eat so they keep trying to figure out different ways to prepare it-boiling, roasting, drying, fermenting, until it stops making them feel sick. Sometimes it just killed them, and everyone else knows to stay away.

Humans have a pretty wide diet, fortunately, and can eat a lot of stuff in a lot of different environments. We, as in Homo sapiens, also evolved alongside cooking. Cooking foods with heat and/or preparing them in other ways like fermentation can make a lot of things that are poisonous while raw into safe delicious cooked foods to enjoy!

Anonymous 0 Comments

There were no “first humans”. Humanity is part of a continuum of animals going back hundreds of millions of years.