"Give us this day our daily bread - Lord's Prayer
"A staple food is a food that forms the basis of a traditional diet" - wikipedia
"Why did the chicken cross the road? It was probably stapled to a carrot" - wertperch
Ask your friends what they consider to be a staple food and I bet you'll get a wide range of answers. Ask people in other states, other countries; ask around the world, across different nations and socio-economic boundaries, and the range will be immense. Think of 19th-Century Ireland, you get potatoes, American Indians had corn (known to many outside the US as maize, Europe cultivated wheat (oft referred to as "corn" by English speakers), India and the East traditionally eat rice. The same is true pretty much everywhere - there is a high-calorie food that is relatively tolerant of the climate, usually a starchy food of some description.
According to businessdictionary.com, a staple is "that [which] is regularly consumed in a community or society and from which people obtain most or a significant proportion of their calorie requirements." This is not to say, however, that the staple food is the only food eaten in a culture, or that it is necessarily a starch-based food. Many shore-based cultures have a ready supply of fish, for example, and this forms a large part of their diet, contributing the vital calories they need. Likewise, a society that lives near an abundant supply of game will rely to a great extent on hunting for meat to provide their diet.
This is backed up by looking at generic terms for food. "Daily bread" is mentioned in the Lord's Prayer and is also known as the staff of life - in Israel in Jesus' day, most people relied on bread for basic sustenance, whereas Robert Browning could say "...to find [the world's] meaning is my meat and drink", and the Japanese traditionally called rice "honourable food", indicating its status as a foundation of their diet.
Some Staple Facts
Of the tens of thousands of edible plant crops worldwide, just fifteen are considered staples in the sense given above, providing 90% of the world's calorific intake. These are:
Of these fifteen, three crops provide two-thirds of the total calories; rice, maize, and wheat. Little wonder that using maize to produce ethanol for cars is upsetting the apple cart, so to speak. Here's a staple food being used to power those Humvees. Watch for more food riots, folks.
Speaking of Humvees, what about North America? Did you notice that was missing from the list? Did you also miss Northern and Central Europe, as well as the bulk of Northern Asia and Australasia? Well, so did I. Apparently, their staple foods are somewhat different, if recent WalMart news is anything to go by. According to several news sources, the hypermegamarket chain slashed prices on certain consumer staples, these being bread, milk, butter and eggs. Staple foods in much of the affluent West are seemingly much different from those elsewhere. At least, so it would seem.
I recently conducted a quick straw poll amongst a few friends, colleagues and customers, asking "what do you consider a staple food?" I got some interesting responses. Eggs, milk, chicken and bacon were on the list. I own up to the bacon, although that's only really true on a Sunday morning, when I make bacon sandwiches, which we then eat in bed, being the decadent souls that we are. Amazingly, alcohol turned up in the list, for the reason that some alcoholics get a good deal of their calories from grog or similar tipple. Students the world over seem to subsist on a diet of ramen noodles and canned pop.
Then there were those who mentioned other, more localised, staples. Quinoa is grown in The Andes area of South America, taro in some areas of Southeast Asia, yucca roots are eaten in some areas of Central and Northern America. Then there are different preparations of the basic foods, for example wheat can be processed into noodles, oats into porridge, barley and rye into a variety of breads, maize served as grits.
Where's the humour in that?
Well, I'll tell ya. Part of my job involves receiving orders of vegetables from distributors, checking them and putting them away in a large walk-in cooler. About three weeks ago I was unloading an order (50-pound plastic bales of bagged carrots, to be exact), when one of the metal closures snagged the skin of my left wrist, breaking the skin, effectively stapling me to a large bag of carrots. It's funny now, but it wasn't then - I was trapped in a narrow space, crouched on the floor, attached to fifty pounds of cold veggies. On my own in 34°F. Thankfully, my cries for help were heard and I was extricated from my tricky position, not without some guffaws from colleagues, who thought it hilarious that I'd been so afflicted. I escaped with a teeny puncture wound which left a tiny scar. So may I now add carrots to the list of staple foods? You bet.