"The question is which are okay, which are not okay."
- As the material that makes all living things what/who we are, DNA is the key to understanding and changing the world. British geneticist Bryan Sykes and Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project) explain how, through gene editing, scientists can better treat illnesses, eradicate diseases, and revolutionize personalized medicine.
- But existing and developing gene editing technologies are not without controversies. A major point of debate deals with the idea that gene editing is overstepping natural and ethical boundaries. Just because they can, does that mean that scientists should be edit DNA?
- Harvard professor Glenn Cohen introduces another subcategory of gene experiments: mixing human and animal DNA. "The question is which are okay, which are not okay, why can we generate some principles," Cohen says of human-animal chimeras and arguments concerning improving human life versus morality.
Did the 20th century bring a breakthrough in how children are treated?
It took several thousand years for our culture to realize that a child is not an object. Learning how to treat children as humans continues to this day.
Double standards in people's approach to children were not unusual in the past. In ancient Greece, no one condemned parents for leaving a baby by the road or in the garbage. Usually, it was torn apart by animals. Less often, a passer-by would take them – not necessarily guided by mercy. After raising the orphan, the 'Good Samaritan' could sell the child at a slave market, recovering the money invested in their maintenance with interest. This kind of practice did not shock, because in the world of ancient Greece a child had the status of private property, and therefore the public and authorities were indifferent to their fate.
The exception was Sparta, but this did not mean anything good for minors. While in other poleis infanticide was left to parents, in Sparta it was managed by the council of Fyli. In Life of Lycurgus, Plutarch wrote about how the child was inspected by the Fyli elders forming the council: "If they found it stout and well made, they gave order for its rearing, and allotted to it one of the nine thousand shares of land above mentioned for its maintenance, but, if they found it puny and ill-shaped, ordered it to be taken to what was called the Apothetae, a sort of chasm under Taygetus; as thinking it neither for the good of the child itself, nor for the public interest, that it should be brought up, if it did not, from the very outset, appear made to be healthy and vigorous." The boys who passed the selection faced a rather short childhood – when they were seven, they were taken to the barracks, where they were trained to be excellent soldiers until they came of age.
Greek standards for dealing with children were modified slightly by the Romans. Until the second century BCE, citizens of the Eternal City followed the custom to put each new born baby on the ground right after delivery. If the father picked the baby up, the mother could care for it. If not, the newborn landed in the trash – someone could take them away or wild dogs would consume them. It was not until the end of the republic that this custom was considered barbaric and gradually began to fade. However, the tradition requiring that the young man or woman should remain under the absolute authority of their father was still obliged. The head of the family could even kill the offspring with impunity, although he had to consult the decision with the rest of the family beforehand.
When the Greeks and Romans did decide to look after their offspring, they showed them love and attention. In wealthier homes, special emphasis was placed on education and upbringing, so that the descendant "would desire to become an exemplary citizen, who would able to govern as well as obey orders in accordance with the laws of justice," as Plato explained in The Laws. According to the philosopher, children should be carefully looked after, and parents have the duty to care for their physical and mental development. Plato considered outdoor games combined with reading fairy tales, poetry and listening to music as the best way to achieve this goal. Interestingly, Plato did not approve of corporeal punishment as an educational measure.
The great Greek historian and philosopher Plutarch was of a similar opinion. He praised the Roman senator Cato the Elder for helping his wife to bathe their son, and not avoiding changing the baby. When the offspring grew up, the senator spent a lot of time with the boy, studied literary works with him, and taught him history, as well as horse riding and the use of weapons. Cato also condemned the beating of children, considering it to be unworthy of a Roman citizen. As prosperity grew, the revolutionary idea became increasingly popular in the republic. Educator Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian) in his Institutes of Orator described corporeal punishment as "humiliating".
Another consequence of the liberalization of customs in the first century CE was taking care of girls' education and gradually equalizing their rights with those of boys. However, only Christians condemned the practice of abandonment of newborns. The new religion, garnering new followers in the Roman Empire from the third century onwards, ordered followers to care unconditionally for every being bestowed with an immortal soul.
This new trend turned out so strong that it survived even the fall of the Empire and the conquest of its lands by the Germanic peoples. Unwanted children began to end up in shelters, eagerly opened by monasteries. Moral pressure and the opportunity to give a child to the monks led to infanticide becoming a marginal phenomenon. Legal provisions prohibiting parents from killing, mutilating and selling children began to emerge. In Poland, this was banned in 1347 by Casimir the Great in his Wiślica Statutes.
However, as Philippe Ariès notes in Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life: "Childhood was a period of transition which passed quickly, and which was just as quickly forgotten." As few children survived into adulthood, parents usually did not develop deeper emotional ties with their offspring. During the Middle Ages, most European languages did not even know the word 'child'.
Departure from violence
During the Middle Ages, a child became a young man at the age of eight or nine. According to canon law of the Catholic Church, the bride had to be at least 12 years old, and the groom, 14. This fact greatly hindered the lives of the most powerful families. Immediately after the child's birth, the father, wanting to increase the resources and prestige of the family, began looking for a daughter-in-law or son-in-law. While the families decided their fate, the children subject to the transaction had nothing to say. When the King of Poland and Hungary, Louis the Hungarian, matched his daughter Jadwiga with Wilhelm Habsburg, she was only four years old. The husband chosen for her was four years older. To avoid conflicts with the church, the contract between the families was called an 'engagement for the future' (in Latin: sponsalia de futuro). The advantage of these arrangements was such that if political priorities changed, they were easier to break than sacramental union. This was the case with the engagement of Hedwig, who, for the benefit of the Polish raison d'etat, at the age of 13 married Władysław II Jagiełło, instead of Habsburg.
Interest in children as independent beings was revived in Europe when antiquity was discovered. Thanks to the writings of ancient philosophers, the fashion to care for education and educating children returned. Initially, corporeal punishment was the main tool in the education process. Regular beating of the pupils was considered to be so necessary that in the monastery schools a custom of a spring trip to the birch grove arose. There, the students themselves collected a supply of sticks for their teacher for the entire year.
A change in this way of thinking came with Ignatius of Loyola's Society of Jesus, founded in 1540. The Jesuits used violence only in extraordinary situations, and corporeal punishment could only be imposed by a servant, never a teacher. The pan-European network of free schools for young people built by the order enjoyed an excellent reputation. "They were the best teachers of all," the English philosopher Francis Bacon admitted reluctantly. The successes of the order made empiricists aware of the importance of non-violent education. One of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century, John Locke, urged parents to try to stimulate children to learn and behave well, using praise above all other measures.
The aforementioned Rousseau went even further, and criticized all then patterns of treating children. According to the then fashion, noble and rich people did not deal with them, because so did the plebs. The newborn was fed by a wet-nurse, and then was passed on to grandparents or poor relatives who were paid a salary. The child would return home when they were at least five years old. The toddler suddenly lost their loved ones. Later, their upbringing and education was supervised by their strict biological mother. They saw the father sporadically. Instead of love, they received daily lessons in showing respect and obedience. Rousseau condemned all of this. "His accusations and demands shook public opinion, women read them with tears in their eyes. And just like it was once fashionable, among the upper classes, to pass on the baby to the wet-nurse, after Emil it became fashionable for the mother to breastfeed her child," wrote Stanisław Kot in Historia wychowania [The History of Education]. Still, a fashion detached from the law and exposing society to the fate of children could not change the reality.
Shelter and factory
"In many villages and towns, newborn babies were kept for twelve to fifteen days, until there were enough of them. Then they were transported, often in a state of extreme exhaustion, to the shelter," writes Marian Surdacki in Dzieci porzucone w społeczeństwach dawnej Europy i Polski [Children Abandoned in the Societies of Old Europe and Poland]. While the Old Continent elites discovered the humanity of children, less affluent residents began reproducing entirely different ancient patterns on a massive scale. In the 18th century, abandoning unwanted children again became the norm. They usually went to care facilities maintained by local communes. In London, shelters took in around 15,000 children each year. Few managed to survive into adulthood. Across Europe, the number of abandoned children in the 18th century is estimated at around 10 million. Moral condemnation by the Catholic and Protestant churches did not do much.
Paradoxically, the industrial revolution turned out to be more effective, although initially it seemed to have the opposite effect. In Great Britain, peasants migrating to the cities routinely rid themselves of bothersome progeny. London shelters were under siege, and around 120,000 homeless, abandoned children wandered the streets of the metropolis. Although most did not survive a year, those who did required food and clothes. The financing of shelters placed a heavy burden on municipal budgets. "To the parish authorities, encumbered with great masses of unwanted children, the new cotton mills in Lancashire, Derby, and Notts were a godsend," write Barbara and John Lawrence Hammond in The Town Labourer.
At the beginning of the 19th century, English shelters became a source of cheap labour for the emerging factories. Orphans had to earn a living to receive shelter and food. Soon, their peers from poor families met the same fate. "In the manufacturing districts it is common for parents to send their children of both sexes at seven or eight years of age, in winter as well as summer, at six o'clock in the morning, sometimes of course in the dark, and occasionally amidst frost and snow, to enter the manufactories, which are often heated to a high temperature, and contain an atmosphere far from being the most favourable to human life," wrote Robert Owen in 1813. This extraordinary manager of the New Lanark spinning mill built a workers' estate complete with a kindergarten. It offered care, but also taught the children of workers how to read and write.
However, Owen remained a notable exception. Following his appeal, in 1816 the British parliament set up a special commission, which soon established that as many as 20% of workers in the textile industry were under 13 years old. There were also spinning mills where children constituted 70% of the labour force. As a standard, they worked 12 hours a day, and their only day of rest was Sunday. Their supervisors maintained discipline with truncheons. Such daily existence, combined with the tuberculosis epidemic, did not give the young workers a chance to live for too long. Owen and his supporters' protests, however, hardly changed anything for many years. "Industry as such is seeking new, less skilled but cheaper, workers. Small children are most welcome," noted the French socialist Eugène Buret two decades later.
Among the documents available in the British National Archives is the report of a government factory inspector from August 1859. He briefly described the case of a 13-year-old worker, Martha Appleton, from a Wigan spinning mill. Due to unhealthy, inhumane conditions the girl fainted on the job. Her hand became caught in an unguarded machine and all her fingers on that hand were severed. Since her job required both hands to be fast and efficient, Martha was fired, noted the inspector. As he suspected, the girl fainted due to fatigue. The next day, the factory owner decided that such a defective child would be useless. So, he dismissed her.
Where a single man once worked, one now finds several children or women doing similar jobs for poor salaries, warned Eugène Buret. This state of affairs began to alarm an increasing number of people. The activities of the German educator Friedrich Fröbel had a significant impact on this: he visited many cities and gave lectures on returning children to their childhoods, encouraging adults to provide children with care and free education. Fröbel's ideas contrasted dramatically with press reports about the terrible conditions endured by children in factories.
The Prussian government reacted first, and as early as 1839 banned the employment of minors. In France, a similar ban came into force two years later. In Britain, however, Prime Minister Robert Peel had to fight the parliament before peers agreed to adopt the Factory Act in 1844. The new legislation banned children below 13 from working in factories for more than six hours per day. Simultaneously, employers were required to provide child workers with education in factory schools. Soon, European states discovered that their strength was determined by citizens able to work efficiently and fight effectively on the battlefields. Children mutilated at work were completely unfit for military service. At the end of the 19th century, underage workers finally disappeared from European factories.
In defence of the child
"Mamma has been in the habit of whipping and beating me almost every day. She used to whip me with a twisted whip – a rawhide. The whip always left a black and blue mark on my body," 10-year-old Mary Ellen Wilson told a New York court in April 1874. Social activist Etty Wheeler stood in defence of the girl battered by her guardians (her biological parents were dead). When her requests for intervention were repeatedly refused by the police, the courts, and even the mayor of New York, the woman turned to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for help. Its president Henry Bergh first agreed with Miss Wheeler that the child was not her guardians' property. Using his experience fighting for animal rights, he began a press and legal battle for little Wilson. The girl's testimony published in the press shocked the public. The court took the child from her guardians, and sentenced her sadistic stepmother to a year of hard labour. Mary Ellen Wilson came under the care of Etty Wheeler. In 1877, her story inspired animal rights activists to establish American Humane, an NGO fighting for the protection of every harmed creature, including children.
In Europe, this idea found more and more supporters. Even more so than among the aristocrats, the bourgeois hardly used corporeal punishment, as it was met with more and more condemnation, note Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby in A History of Private Life: From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War. At the same time, the custom of entrusting the care of offspring to strangers fell into oblivion. Towards the end of the 19th century, 'good mothers' began to look after their own babies.
In 1900, Ellen Key's bestselling book The Century of the Child was published. A teacher from Sweden urged parents to provide their offspring with love and a sense of security, and limit themselves to patiently observe how nature takes its course. However, her idealism collided with another pioneering work by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The authors postulated that we ought to "replace home education by social". The indoctrination of children was to be dealt with by school and youth organizations, whose aim was to prepare young people to fight the conservative generation of parents for a new world.
Did the 20th century bring a breakthrough in how children are treated? In 1924, the League of Nations adopted a Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The opening preamble stated that "mankind owes to the child the best that it has to give." This is an important postulate, but sadly it is still not implemented in many places around the world.
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Figiel
Scrap getting fitter or eating better and focus more on the people in your life.
Maybe you're one of the 74% of Americans in one survey who said they planned on hitting the reset button on Jan. 1 and resolving to improve. Those New Year's resolutions most commonly focus on eating healthier, exercising, losing weight and being a better person.
Admirable goals, to be sure. But focusing on body and mind neglects something equally important: your romantic relationship. Couples with better marriages report higher well-being, and a recent study found that having a better romantic relationship not only promoted well-being and better health now but that those benefits extend into the future.
The lesson is clear: Your relationship is important. Resolve to get it right.
That doesn't mean you have to be perfect. But here are seven resolutions based on recent psychological research that you can make this New Year to help keep your relationship going strong.
1. Set yourself up for success
Adjust your mindset so you see your relationship as a key source of positive experiences. Psychologists like me call this boosting your social approach motivation. Instead of merely trying to avoid relationship problems, those with an approach motivation seek out the positives and use them to help the relationship.
Here's how: Imagine a conversation with your partner. Having more of an approach motivation allows you to focus on positive feelings as you talk and to see your partner as more responsive to you. Your partner gets a burst of positivity, too, and in return sees you as more responsive. One partner's good vibes spill over to the other partner, ultimately benefiting both. After a year when your relationship may have felt unprecedented external strains, laying the foundation to take advantage of any positives is good place to start.
2. Be optimistic
While things in the past may not have always gone how you wanted, it's important to be optimistic about the future. But the right kind of optimism matters. A 2020 research study from Krystan Farnish and Lisa Neff found that generally looking on the bright side of life allowed participants to deal with relationship conflict more effectively – as they put it, better able to "shake it off" – than did those who were optimistic specifically about their relationship.
It seems that if people focus all their rosy expectations just on their relationship, it encourages them to anticipate few negative experiences with their partner. Since that's unrealistic even in the best relationships, it sets them up for disappointment.
3. Increase your psychological flexibility
Try to go with the flow. In other words, work on accepting your feelings without being defensive. It's OK to adjust your behaviors – you don't always have to do things the way you always have or go the places you've always gone. Stop being stubborn and experiment with being flexible.
A recent study by Karen Twiselton and colleagues found that when you're more flexible psychologically, relationship quality is higher, in part because you experience more positive and fewer negative emotions. For example, navigating the yearly challenge of holidays and family traditions is a relationship minefield. However, if both partners back away from a "must do" mentality in favor of a more adaptable approach, relationship harmony will be greater.
4. It's OK to put 'me' before 'we'
It's easy for some people to play the self-sacrificing martyr in their romantic relationship. If this sounds like you, try to focus more on yourself. It doesn't make you a bad person or a bad partner. When you're psychologically healthy, your partner and your relationship also benefit.
Recent research identified four main traits that are part of good mental health: openness to feelings, warmth, positive emotions and straightforwardness. These traits help with being more clear about who you are, feeling better about who you are, expressing greater optimism and less aggression, exploiting others less and exhibiting less antisocial behavior. You can see how what's good for you in this case would be good for your partner too.
5. Do something for your partner
But it's not all about you. Putting your partner first some of the time and catering to your partner's desires is part of being a couple. A 2020 study by Johanna Peetz and colleagues found that prioritizing your partner makes you feel closer to them, increases positive feelings, reduces negative ones and boosts perceived relationship quality.
In the new year, look for ways to give your partner some wins. Let them get their way from time to time and support them in what they want to do, without exclusively prioritizing your own wants and needs.
6. Don't be so hard on yourself
So many New Year's resolutions focus on body image. Aspirations to eat better and work out often stem from the same goal: a hotter body. Yet, research from Xue Lei shows that you may not really know what your partner wants you to look like.
Women tend to overestimate how thin male partners want them to be. Similarly, men believe that female partners want them to be more muscular than women say they do. It may seem harmless, but in both cases individuals are more critical and demanding toward themselves, in part based on misreading what a partner truly desires.
7. Stay in touch
I saved the easiest item on the list for last: Touch your partner more. When Cheryl Carmichael and colleagues followed 115 participants over a 10-day period, they found that initiating and receiving touch – things like holding hands, cuddling, kissing – were associated with both a boost in closeness and relationship quality. Importantly, being touched by your partner has the added benefit of making you feel more understood and validated. Who couldn't use more of that in the coming year?
Has lockdown made your pet extra clingy?
He says his new companion helped make the months of COVID-19 isolation at home much less stressful.
But after my co-worker returned to work, he says his adorable kitten started urinating on the kitchen counter while he was away.
Another friend is worried about how her dog will react when she returns to the office. Her big, goofy Labrador retriever follows her everywhere, even to the bathroom. When she leaves to run a quick errand, the dog sits by the back door and whines, awaiting her return.
What should these pet owners do?
The problem with sudden changes in routine
A change in routine, such as suddenly being alone for many hours every day, is a major cause of separation anxiety for both dogs and cats.
Separation anxiety is more than a little whimpering when you head out the door. It's major, unwanted behavior that happens every time you leave or are away.
For dogs and cats, this can mean excessive pacing, barking or howling, whimpering or self-grooming as you get ready to leave. In some cases it can mean urinating or defecating around the house, often in places where scents linger, such as on bedding or rugs, or destroying household items in your absence. Extreme clinginess or neediness is another symptom.
Separation anxiety won't go away on its own, and it can be difficult to get rid of entirely. But there are ways to manage it. As a clinical veterinarian and professor, I am often asked to help people find ways to ease their pets' anxiety.
What not to do
First, it's important to understand that it's not about you – it's about your pet. Your dog or cat is not trying to teach you a lesson or get revenge. Animals don't act out of spite.
Instead, it's a signal of extreme distress and frustration that should be approached like any other medical ailment. Your pet doesn't want to experience separation anxiety any more than you want to experience its consequences.
For this reason, punishment is never the answer. For one thing, your pet won't connect the punishment with something that happened hours – or even a few minutes – earlier. And punishment may only exacerbate your pet's anxiety and stress.
Similarly, going to the opposite extreme by praising or giving affection when your pet is suffering anxiety also will make the problem worse.
The goal is to create a balanced relationship so your pet tolerates being alone. First, get your pet checked out by a veterinarian to rule out physical conditions, such as a urinary tract infection if your pet urinates in inappropriate places.
Next, make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. For dogs, this may mean a long run or brisk walk every day. Getting exercise shortly before you leave the house may put your dog in a more relaxed state while you're gone. It's harder to feel stressed when the endorphin levels are elevated. For cats, this could mean a change of environment by being outdoors in a safe, enclosed area such as a "catio."
Photo by bradley pisney on Unsplash
Treating separation anxiety with behavior change
Here, we're talking about your behavior. The goal is to make your absence seem like no big deal. Making a fuss over your pet when you leave or arrive home only makes matters worse. If you treat it like it's routine, your pet will learn to do the same.
Try to figure out when your pet starts to show signs of anxiety and turn that into a low-key activity. If it's when you pick up your handbag, for example, practice picking it up and putting it back down several times over a few hours. Similarly, get dressed or put on your shoes earlier than usual but stay home instead of leaving right away. Try starting your car's engine and then turning it off and walking back inside.
Next, practice short absences. When you're at home, make it a point to spend some time in another room. In addition, leave the house long enough to run an errand or two, then gradually increase the time that you're away so that being gone for a full day becomes part of the family routine.
Changing the environment
Boredom makes separation anxiety worse. Providing an activity for your pet while you're gone, such as a puzzle toy stuffed with treats, or simply hiding treats around the house will make your absence less stressful. Other options for dogs and cats include collars and plug-in devices that release calming pheromones.
To maintain your bond while you're gone, place a piece of clothing that you have worn recently in a prominent place, such as on your bed or couch, to comfort your pet. Similarly, you can leave the TV or radio on – there are even special programs just for pets – or set up a camera so you can observe and interact with your pet remotely. Some of these come equipped with a laser pointer or treats you can dispense.
Using supplements or medication
In some severe cases, when the animal harms itself or causes property damage, medication or supplements might be necessary. These alter the brain's neurotransmitters to create a sense of calm.
While some are readily available without a prescription, it's a good idea to get advice from your veterinarian to determine which are safest and most effective for your pet's situation. Medication can help reduce the anxiety, making it easier for the pet to learn new coping skills. A behavior modification plan accompanying the use of medication can help manage this problem.
Separation anxiety is difficult for both you and your pet. But a few simple changes can make a huge difference as life returns to some semblance of normal.
An archaeologist considers the history and biology of what defines a taste of home.
With COVID-19 fracturing our daily lives and holiday customs, the food on those lonely plates may become a source of solace.
During this pandemic, I have been receiving emails each morning from The New York Times with suggestions on what to cook. It might be the turning of the seasons, or the stress and grief of a prolonged global crisis that has stretched for months already, but lately, the recommended recipes are mostly along the lines of comfort food.
When I noticed this—it was a photo of an enameled pot brimming with a Dijon and cognac beef stew that did it—I wondered what exactly defined comfort food. I know the types of foods that conjure feelings of "home" and "safe" to me, but are there universally comforting dishes or ingredients across cultures and time? Where does the concept of comfort food come from? And how far back do the flavors of comfort stretch?
I took my curiosity first to Twitter and Facebook, asking friends what their comfort food of choice was. Answers varied, but there were trends. One was starchiness. Potatoes figured heavily on the comfort menu—mashed, roasted, fried, or in dumplings like pierogies. Pasta was a top contender as well, and mac and cheese made several appearances.
It's unlikely to surprise any starch lover that consumption of carbohydrates creates a release of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates mood and creates a feeling of calm or stability. It's no wonder that bread baking has skyrocketed in popularity while people have been stuck indoors.
The second trend I saw in these responses was food as a trigger for memory—a point that comes up in academic studies of comfort foods too. One friend wrote that whenever she uses onions, carrots, and celery as a base, she remembers the smell of her mother's hands tucking her into bed after cooking dinner for the family. A friend chose her mother's chicken and dumplings as her top comfort food, and another chose her grandmother's German potato salad (both neatly straddling the starch and memory categories).
Another response read:
"I was really close to my grandpa. There was a huge mass of berry bushes and thistles and all kinds of weeds on his property. Every summer, he would wade into that mess to pick raspberries while I got the ones on the path so I didn't get scratched up. My grandma and I made dozens of jars of jam. And every morning of his life other than Christmas day, my grandfather had a peanut butter and jam sandwich for breakfast."
For this friend, PB&J is more than just an American childhood staple.
Most of the responses I got were from American friends, leaving me curious about people in the rest of the world. A search online for international comfort foods turned up many similar trends, but with plenty of variation. Someone homesick for Hong Kong might crave hotpot or the savory char of siu mei, rotisserie-style roasted meats. A person missing Greece might long for moussaka or pastitsio. A Philippine adobo or a dish of Nigerian jollof rice could transport those hungry for familiar flavors.
I think about food a lot—nearly constantly, in fact. I also often wonder about the lives of ancient people, as we archaeologists tend to do. So, what were the flavors of home and family gathering in the deep past?
Early humans, like animals, evolved to like the taste of things that were good for them and to find things that do harm—from poisonous plants to rotten meat—distasteful. Early food choices were driven by what was seasonally available and packed with calories.
Our craving for sugar, which today can cause obesity and other health problems, stems from an evolutionary advantage for people who ate energy-rich foods. Over time, people also found foods that were medicinally helpful, acted as preservatives or antimicrobial agents, or simply tasted good.
The use of spices for taste goes back surprisingly far. More than 6,000 years ago, at least some cooks in the western Baltic region included the crushed seeds of the garlic mustard plant in their dishes. This finding is generally seen as the first evidence of use of spices for culinary purposes in ancient European cuisine, though the authors say it's hard to know if this was a regular practice at the time. Garlic mustard has a peppery kick something like an extra-strong arugula. In the Baltic region today, grated horseradish and mustard sauces are common fixtures at the dinner table.
The geographic variation in what was available and popular has carved out niches of regional, traditional tastes, forming recognizable spice combinations for countries and communities around the world today.
The archaeological record preserves the remains of the earliest-known bread from about 14,000 years ago; we humans have loved it ever since. Ten thousand years ago, the Inca people of the Andes were learning to love the potato. By the 3rd century, noodles were already a staple in China. Six thousand years ago, someone far from their home on the Baltic Sea might have missed the peppery taste of garlic mustard just as today we long for the foods that comfort us.
Everyone—from every place and time—deserves a taste of home now and then.