University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Papers

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Journal Article

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Near Eastern Archaeology





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Frances M. Lappe's 1971 book, Dietfor a Small Planet, opened many eyes to the relationship between food supply and population. As the decades have progressed, it has become clear that solutions to overpopulation, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity must include an appreciation for diets that emphasize plant foods over animal products, because plants have the potential to feed more people from the same area. To get enough protein from a plant-based diet, however, a combination of foods must be consumed. Agricultural societies around the world independently solved this problem by developing cuisines based on cereals and pulses: maize and beans in the Americas, soybeans and rice in East Asia, wheat and barley and lentil, peas, and chickpeas in the Near East. Compared to the cuisines of our post-industrial processed food era, the diet of traditional peoples seems to be healthier-low in fat and sugar, high in vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates, and with enough protein to maintain good health.

It is ironic that we now worry about population increase, tree-cutting, and ready access to meat, when long ago in the Near East these developments were the epitome of modernity. Around nine thousand years ago traditional mixed farming based mainly on plant and animal husbandry was in place: populations were expanding, fields were being cleared, and the nearest lambchop was no further away than your local sheepfold. Yet, one or two thousand years earlier, the only meat in the diet came from wild animals. Why did this change occur?

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© 2001 American Schools of Oriental Research. All rights reserved. Republished here by permission of the American Schools of Oriental Research



Date Posted: 10 November 2016