Food is the driving engine of evolution. Species after species thrives or perishes depending on whether it can solve the problem of eat and not be eaten. The early history of mankind is determined and even classified by the food supply, with hunters, hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and farmers. Farming techniques spread through the world (perhaps from Anatolia) and those with better techniques thrived. Later, this gave rise to the first civilizations, since organized co-operative projects were necessary to tame rivers and irrigate the land. According to the theory of oriental despotism, this centralization also gave birth to the first absolute rulers, and perhaps class divisions as well.
But in the beginning, the quest for food was merely the struggle for survival. Has the desire for gourmet food changed history? And how? These examples spring to mind:
1) The spice trade. The search for gourmet spices (especially cloves and pepper) sparked journeys of exploration, led to wars which changed the history of the world -- and wrecked (or at least forever changed) much of the Americas and also what is now eastern Indonesia. Columbus might have stayed at home had he not been seeking a cheap source of pepper.
2) Louis XIV. Courtly, formalized European cuisine was invented (or formalized) in the halls of Versailles. The Sun-King used decadent banquets as a way to consolidate his power. Nobles who might otherwise have been busy fomenting rebellion were enticed to spend their days at court, sated by luxury meals. (Perhaps the French were born Chowhounds: the tax on salt, the gabelle, inspired more resentment than an other royal policy.) Later on, the French used culinary prowess to assert their cultural superiority over the lands they colonied. Native leaders were invited to Paris, where they were wined and dined and eventually wound up as supporters of France. Perhaps it was no coincidence the the one French colonial mission that failed was in Mexico, which had a great cuisine of its own.
Can you think of any other ways in which Chowhounds have changed history?