Hebrew and Greek terms rendered “food” have various literal meanings, such as “thing eaten,” “nourishment,” “bread,” and “meat, or flesh.”
After creating Adam and Eve, God said: “Here I have given to you all vegetation bearing seed which is on the surface of the whole earth and every tree on which there is the fruit of a tree bearing seed. To you let it serve as food.” He further stated that to all the animal creation he had given “all green vegetation for food.” To Adam he also said: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction,” adding a prohibition on one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.—Ge 1:29, 30; 2:16, 17.
From that time until the Flood, the Bible gives no indication that man included the flesh of animals in his diet. True, a distinction was made between clean and unclean animals, but this evidently was with regard to animals used for sacrificial purposes.—Ge 7:2.
When Noah was commanded to take the animals into the ark, Jehovah told him: “As for you, take for yourself every sort of food that is eaten; and you must gather it to yourself, and it must serve as food for you and for them,” again seemingly having reference to food from the vegetable kingdom for the humans and the animals taken into the ark. (Ge 6:21) After the Flood, Jehovah allowed man to add flesh to his diet, saying: “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.”—Ge 9:3, 4.
Cereals. Cereals constituted the basic food of the people of Bible lands, as is evident from the fact that in both Hebrew and Greek the expression “eat a meal” literally means “eat bread.” (Ge 43:31, 32) Barley and wheat were the chief cereals; other cereals mentioned are millet and spelt, a form of wheat. (Jg 7:13; Isa 28:25; Eze 4:9; Joh 6:9, 13) Besides being used for bread, ordinary flour was made into a sort of porridge. Grain was often eaten roasted, either by taking a bunch of the grain ears together and holding them over a fire or by roasting them in a pan. (Ru 2:14; 2Sa 17:28) It was made into bread, usually with the grain ground coarsely. However, in some of the bread and cakes a finer flour was used. (Ge 18:6; Ex 29:2) One method of baking was to spread the dough on hot rocks or on a flat surface of rocks on which a fire had been built. Ferment or leaven was often used, while some bread was baked unfermented. (Le 7:13; 1Ki 19:6) Ovens were also employed, in which the lumps of dough were flattened on a stone within. Cakes were sometimes prepared in a pan, on a griddle, or in a deep-fat kettle. The fat used was oil, probably olive oil.—Le 2:4, 5, 7; 1Ch 9:31; see BAKE, BAKER.
Vegetables. Beans and lentils were included in the diet, being made into a stew such as the lentil stew that Jacob made and for which Esau sold his birthright. (Ge 25:34) Sometimes meat or oil was used with the stew. Flour might be made from beans or could be a mixture of grain cereals, beans, and lentils. (Eze 4:9) Cucumbers of a variety that is more tasty than the Western variety constituted a refreshing food. When water was scarce or bad, these could be eaten to provide a substitute for water. Cucumbers were eaten raw, with or without salt, and were sometimes stuffed and cooked. The Israelites looked back with longing for the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic that they ate in Egypt. (Nu 11:4, 5) These foods were also produced in Palestine.
The Mishnah (Pesahim 2:6) mentions endive and chicory as the bitter greens used at the Passover.—Ex 12:8.
Fruits and Nuts. The olive was an outstanding article of food in Palestine. The tree may take ten years or longer to begin producing good harvests, but its great longevity makes it very fruitful. The fruits of the olive tree may have been eaten as today, after being soaked in brine. Olives also provided oil for cooking such items as stews and oiled cakes. The Bible mentions “well-oiled dishes.”—Isa 25:6.
Figs were another important item of diet. (De 8:8) Once spotted on a tree, early figs were often eaten immediately. (Isa 28:4) Late figs were dried in the sun and pressed in molds, forming cakes of figs. (1Sa 25:18; 1Ch 12:40) Used as a poultice, they had healing properties. (Isa 38:21) Besides the common fig tree, a tree known as the sycamore (fig-mulberry) also produced edible figs. (1Ch 27:28; Am 7:14) Other fruits were the date, the pomegranate, and the apple.—Ca 5:11; Joe 1:12; Hag 2:19; see APPLE.
Grapes are one of the most abundant foods in Palestine. When the Israelites spied out the land of Canaan they brought back a great cluster of grapes, carried on a bar between two men. (Nu 13:23) Grapes were eaten in their natural state and also dried (Nu 6:3) and pressed into cakes. (1Sa 25:18; 1Ch 12:40) As today, undoubtedly the young leaves were eaten as a green vegetable; the older leaves were fed to sheep and goats.
The pods of the carob tree were usually fed to animals, although they may have been used for human consumption in time of need. The hungry prodigal son in Jesus’ illustration expressed the desire to feed on them.—Lu 15:16; see CAROB POD.
Spices and Honey. Spices prominently used for seasoning were mint, dill, cumin, rue, and mustard leaves. (Mt 23:23; 13:31; Lu 11:42) Salt was the chief article of seasoning, also having preservative properties. Thus, “a covenant of salt” was a sure covenant, not to be violated. (Nu 18:19; 2Ch 13:5) Additionally, the Mishnah (Shabbat 6:5) mentions pepper. The caper berry was used as an appetizer.—Ec 12:5.
Honey was considered a choice food that brightened the eyes with energy. (1Sa 14:27-29; Ps 19:10; Pr 16:24) The manna tasted like flat cakes with honey. (Ex 16:31) John the Baptizer ate honey along with insect locusts.—Mt 3:4.
Flesh as Food. God told Noah after the Flood that, along with vegetation, he could use for food every moving animal that is alive. (Ge 9:3, 4) But under the Law, the Israelites were restricted to eating what were defined as clean animals. These are listed in Leviticus, chapter 11, and Deuteronomy, chapter 14. The common people did not ordinarily eat much meat. But occasionally a goat or a lamb would be slaughtered for a communion sacrifice or in honor of a guest. (Le 3:6, 7, 12; 2Sa 12:4; Lu 15:29, 30) Among the more well-to-do, beef cattle were slaughtered. (Ge 18:7; Pr 15:17; Lu 15:23) Some of the game animals, such as the stag, gazelle, roebuck, wild goat, antelope, wild bull, and chamois, were eaten, and the meat was roasted or boiled. (Ge 25:28; De 12:15; 14:4, 5) The eating of blood was strictly forbidden, as was the eating of fat.—Le 7:25-27.
Fowl were also eaten. The Israelites were miraculously furnished with quail in the wilderness. (Nu 11:31-33) Pigeons, turtledoves, partridge, and sparrows were among the clean fowl. (1Sa 26:20; Mt 10:29) Additionally, eggs were an item of food.—Isa 10:14; Lu 11:11, 12.
Among the edible insects was the locust, which, with honey, formed the food of John the Baptizer. (Mt 3:4) Today locusts are eaten by some Arabs. After having the head, legs, and wings removed, the locusts are dropped into meal and fried in oil or butter.
Fish were obtainable from the Mediterranean and also from the Sea of Galilee. Several of the apostles of Jesus Christ were fishermen, and Jesus, on at least one occasion, after his resurrection, prepared some fish over a charcoal fire for his disciples. (Joh 21:9) Fish were also dried, providing convenient food for travelers. The fish of Jesus’ two miracles of feeding multitudes were probably dried fish. (Mt 15:34; Mr 6:38) One of the gates of Jerusalem was named the Fish Gate, probably indicating that there was a fish market at or near it. (Ne 3:3) In the days of Nehemiah, the Tyrians carried on a fish trade in Jerusalem.—Ne 13:16.
Dairy Products and Beverages. Also important as food were milk and milk products, using milk of cows, goats, or sheep. (1Sa 17:18) Milk was normally kept in skin bottles. (Jg 4:19) It would sour quickly. The Hebrew word chem·ʼahʹ, translated “butter,” can also mean “curdled milk.” Cheese was also a well-known item. In fact, the Tyropoeon (Cheesemakers’) Valley ran along the W side of the very early city of Jerusalem.—Jg 5:25; 2Sa 17:29; Job 10:10; see CHEESE.
The making of wine was one of the principal uses of the grape. Wine was sometimes spiced and also mixed. (Pr 9:2, 5; Ca 8:2; Isa 5:22) The grape gathering took place in the fall. In a warm climate the juice would not long be free from ferment. Several months intervened between grape harvest and Passover time. At Passover it became the custom for family groups to drink several cups of wine, which, by that time, would be fermented. Hence, in celebrating the Passover of 33 C.E., Jesus drank real red wine, some of which he offered to his disciples in introducing the Lord’s Evening Meal. (Mr 14:23-25) It was also fermented wine that Jesus produced at a wedding feast. (Joh 2:9, 10) Wine was used for medicinal purposes as well. (1Ti 5:23) Vinegar derived from grape wine, pure or mixed with spices or fruit juices, was also used. (Nu 6:3; Ru 2:14) Another drink was wheat beer, and a refreshing drink was made from pomegranate juice.—Ca 8:2; Isa 1:22; Ho 4:18.
Manna. Manna was the basic food for the Israelites in the wilderness. It is described at Numbers 11:7, 8 as being like coriander seed, having the appearance of bdellium gum. It was ground in hand mills or pounded in a mortar and boiled or made into cakes tasting like an oiled sweet cake. It is spoken of as “the very bread of powerful ones.”—Ps 78:24, 25; see MANNA.
Eating Together. In Bible times the eating of food together indicated a bond of fellowship. (Ge 31:54; 2Sa 9:7, 10, 11, 13; see MEAL.) To refuse to eat food with someone was an indication of anger or other contrary feeling or attitude. (1Sa 20:34; Ac 11:2, 3; Ga 2:11, 12) Food was often used as a gift, to gain or to ensure the goodwill of another, since the acceptance of a gift was considered to obligate the receiver to observe peaceful relations.—Ge 33:8-16; 1Sa 9:6-8; 25:18, 19; 1Ki 14:1-3.
Christian Viewpoint. Christians are not under the restriction of the Law as to clean and unclean foods. They are required to abstain from blood and things that are strangled, that is, things from which the blood has not properly been drained. (Ac 15:19, 20, 28, 29) But aside from this Bible injunction, they are not to make the eating or the abstaining from certain kinds of food an issue or try to govern another person’s conscience by their own conscience as regards the eating of food. They are warned, however, against eating food as an offering to idols and against stumbling another person by insisting on exercising their Christian freedom in the matter of eating food. (1Co 8; 10:23-33) Christians should not put the matter of food or its handling ahead of the Kingdom and its spiritual interests.—Ro 14:17; Heb 13:9.
Spiritual Food. Jesus delighted to do the will of his Father and spoke of it as food to him. (Joh 4:32, 34) He foretold that he would appoint “the faithful and discreet slave” to give (spiritual) food at the proper time to his disciples. (Mt 24:44-47; see FAITHFUL AND DISCREET SLAVE.) Just as Moses had told the Israelites: “Not by bread alone does man live but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth does man live” (De 8:3), Jesus encouraged his followers to seek, not the material food, but the food that remains for life everlasting. (Joh 6:26, 27; compare Hab 3:17, 18.) He said not to be anxious about food and drink, for “the soul is worth more than food.”—Mt 6:25; Lu 12:22, 23.
The apostle Paul spoke of the elementary things of Christian doctrine as being “milk” and the deeper knowledge as being “solid food.” (Heb 5:12-14; 6:1, 2; 1Co 3:1-3) Peter, too, spoke of nourishing spiritual growth with “unadulterated milk belonging to the word.” (1Pe 2:2) Jesus called himself “the bread of life,” superior to the manna provided in the wilderness, and he pointed out that he had a supply that would prevent the eater from ever getting hungry. (Joh 6:32-35) He shocked some of his followers who lacked spiritual-mindedness when he likened his flesh and blood to food and drink (upon which they could “feed” by faith in his ransom sacrifice) for everlasting life.—Joh 6:54-60.
Jehovah promises a time when he will provide an abundance of both spiritual and material food for his faithful people earth wide, with no famine to threaten them.—Ps 72:16; 85:12; Isa 25:6; see COOKING, COOKING UTENSILS; FAMINE; and items of food under their individual headings.