Bread was not called the staff of life for nothing. One of the most significant events in human history was part of the first scientific revolution which took place about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago: the domestication of grain. For centuries meat was a flavoring. The average portion was about 2 ounces not the quarter pounder or the 16-18-24 ounce beef slabs that are featured today in so many beef-themed restaurants.
Food grains are variations on grasses. The perfect crop of the middle of the United States was not wheat or corn or soy beans but prairie grass which is what the earliest settlers found carpeting the land.
Today there has been a rebirth in both the interest in and the use of ancient grains. In today's markets you can find quinoa, spelt, farro, teff, amaranth and millet in addition to the traditional products: wheat, rice, oats, barley, rye, and sorghum. Early corn was not larger than your pinky finger and its cob had few kernels. The task was to make the ear larger and the kernels more numerous and smaller. With wheat the issue was to make the seed head larger and the stalk stronger. Modern wheat is not "natural," it must be sown by man in order to reproduce. There were common factors among the food grains. They were abundant and cheap. They were filling and easy to prepare and they were all high in carbohydrates. It also didn't take ancient man very long to discover the process of distillation which created alcoholic beverages and was a way of utilizing surplus grain. The products produced had many advantages. They were pourable, potable, portable, and profitable and they did not spoil with storage over time. Grains even found their way into theology. In Genesis we are told that man was formed from the dust of the earth. In creation myth of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas God made the first man and the first woman out of corn.
After harvest there comes preparation. One of the most important of man's inventions is the quern or grain grinder. The earliest quern was simply two grinding stones. Imagine how much time was spent converting grain into meal or flour. You knelt and ground the grain between the stones. Someone got the idea of making a hole in the top stone and then grain could be dropped into the quern. The next great idea was to put a handle on the top stone. Put a long handle on the stone and the stone can be turned with human power or you might want to use a dog or a donkey or a camel. The next big idea was to use water wheels to power really large querns. You dropped the water wheel into a stream or river. This produced the first mills.
Europe had an abundance of rivers and streams and learning to develop gearing for the wheels gave Europe one of the few advantages it would enjoy over the technology of Asia. And there is always one rule that seemed to hold true: increase the food supply and you will increase the population.
So today when you buy a packaged loaf of bread, (Packaged loaves of sliced bread first became available in 1931) you might want to think of the effort and invention that was required to produce "our daily bread."