Thursday, December 6, 2012

How the Potato Changed the World

For some reason, my kids went through a period where they wanted to know about potatoes. No idea why but I’m always up for increasing my esoteric knowledge. So here is the story of the potato. (Just nod and smile. That’s usually what happens when I break out an “oh-so-very interesting” account of something.)
Potatoes originated in the Americas and were brought back to Europe by the explorers. That is along with cocoa, tomatoes, tobacco and all the gold they could pilfer. And probably also with the gift of syphilis, but that’s a story for another time.
The Europeans were very suspicious, because that’s how Europeans roll, witch burning and believing in dragons and what not. As a tangential thought, I always found it odd that they immediately jumped on tobacco. Now you take this and you do what with it? Well sure that sounds reasonable!
But eventually most of Europe came around and planted large potato crops.
The benefits of underground food? When the marauding gangs rode through the town they could plunder and pillage but they couldn’t very well burn your potato crop to the ground. Also grains are pretty finicky and don’t have a very good yield ratio.
France was the one hold out. Sure they were on the verge of starvation but none of this new-fangled, grow in the ground crap for them.
They circumvented that problem with a guillotine and a very short emperor.
The one flaw in this otherwise brilliant feed the masses and avoid a bloody revolution plan? The Conquistadors only brought back a few types of potatoes and these were cut up planted. So the resulting crops were all clones. You see where I’m going with this right? New species brought into an environment with no genetic diversity generally does not go well. Outcome? Potato blight, a huge famine and a large population of Irish in America.
One more tangential thought. When you think of Italy you think things like Vespas, romance and spaghetti. But without the tomatoes from the Americas and noodles from China I’m guessing there would be lots of well Vespas and romance anyway.
Moral of the story? The French are too stubborn for their own good and when you go to a new continent to wipe out the native population, be sure to take home a variety of food options.

1 comment :

Wendy McPitts said...

That is the funniest, most entertaining story of a tuber
I've ever read!