Food was not easy to come by before the agricultural, industrial, and technological revolutions of the last few centuries. But, before that time, civilizations were able to grow and prosper for thousands of years. In Nazareth and Jerusalem circa 2000 years ago, life was still mostly agrarian. During the time of Jesus, malnutrition was an annual threat. A dry winter meant less food for an entire year. Several years of drought would lead to mass migrations.
Plants, animals, and people adapted to the region, and as we all know managed to write some of the most exciting chapters in the annals of humanity. So what did Jesus and countrymen live off in the ancient land of Israel?
1. Olive oil – Olive trees are very resilient and can survive years of poor water supply while reliably providing a harvest every fall. Some trees live to be hundreds of years old. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats (the good fats). It is also anti-inflammatory and tastes great on a salad. It goes without saying that back in the day all olive oil was extra virgin and cold pressed.
2. Wine – Grapes grew in abundance in the foothills of Jerusalem and while they had a very short season, wine lasts for years. Besides its religious function and great side effects, red wine contains antioxidants called resveratrols. These may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of good cholesterol and protecting against damage to blood vessels.
3. Fish – Jesus may have walked on the water, but underneath him the Sea of Galilee (actually, it’s a lake) was teeming with freshwater fish. Fishermen could rely on a relatively stable supply of fish, which are a great source of lean protein, and beneficial omega-3 fats.
4. Pomegranate – Pomegranate trees grow well in Mediterranean climates and produce what is arguably one of the sweetest fresh superfoods of the ancient world. (They did not have blueberries or strawberries).
5. Figs – Fig trees tend to grow near water sources, and are hardy enough to withstand blazing summer heat and cold winter nights. The fruit can be eaten fresh or preserved by drying. Dried figs were traveler’s food. In either configuration, figs are rich in virtually every nutrient in the book, including fiber, calcium, vitamin A, and B vitamins. They are also good for constipation.
Merry Christmas everyone! Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday for all.