Food encompasses more than just baking, cooking, sharing meals or snapping killer Insta’s. The lineage or history of each food has a different, unique story of its own. Each of these stories can be fascinating to learn about. Potatoes are no different. Knowing the history of the food I eat takes my love for it to an entirely new level. Don’t you want to learn more about what you love? Or maybe it’s just me, and I’m too much of a food nerd. You decide.
Regardless, next time you bite into your favorite food, I encourage you to learn more about where it really came from. Take a couple of minutes on your phone or laptop to search where it was first discovered or the effects it had on past people. I think food deserves it. And who knows, it could make you into a killer trivia player at game night next time.
So with all of that said, one of my favorite foods is potatoes. I know what you’re thinking. Potatoes, really? It may not sound that exciting, but from baking rosemary fries to garlic mashed potatoes, potatoes can be used in so many different ways. I love them because they’re a classic and extremely versatile. In addition, they’re extremely hearty and provide starch, vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
Have you ever thought about (or cared about) where the potato originated? Maybe if you’re really into history, this has passed your mind. But if not, I want you to know that a potato’s story is quite interesting. Historically, the potato can be considered both a hero and murderer. It was the cause of a population boom as well as a massive famine.
A Spud’s Beginnings
Potatoes first originated in South America between 3,000 and 7,000 years ago. They were accepted into Incan culture and were believed to make childbirth easier as well as treat injuries.
Into South America came the Spanish conquistadors, who were sent by their country to claim new land and find riches. These conquistadors not only found gold and silver, but they found potatoes as well.
This naturally introduced potatoes to Spain around 1570 and from there they slowly spread to Italy and other European countries.
A Frantic Europe
Today it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love potatoes, but when they were first introduced to Europe everyone looked at them with fear, distaste, and suspicion. The common man thought they were unfit for human consumption. So, basically the equivalent to sardines or liver today.
Potatoes were shown in the exotic sections of botanical gardens and some believed they were the creation of witches or devils. No joke.
What’s interesting is that the European upper class saw the potential that the potato had to combat poverty and wealth before the lower class and peasants.
A War Cry for Potatoes
Revolutionary wars begin in Europe and so did massive food shortages. Because of this, the government finally encouraged potato cultivation. In 1795, the Board of Agriculture published, “Hints Respecting the Culture and Use of Potatoes.” Additionally, the Times started to publish pro-potato features.
Yet only when potatoes received the royal seal of approval by the monarchy did the general population finally begin to see the potato’s value. Louis XVI actually wore a potato flower in his buttonhole and Mari-Antoinette wore the purple potato blossom in her hair.
Potatoes Hit American Soil
Around the 1620’s, the British governor of the Bahamas sent a gift of potatoes to the governor of the colony of Virginia. And there you have it. Potatoes were introduced to the United States. All I have to say is thank you, Governor.
Early colonies addressed potatoes with a suspicion similar to the attitude in Europe. Only when Thomas Jefferson gave them the seal of approval did the American people approve of them as well.
Because potatoes are such a nutritious and hearty food, they caused a massive population boom to occur in Europe, the United States and the British Empire. In addition, they helped prevent scurvy, tuberculosis, measles and dysentery. THANK YOU POTATOES!
SPUDS CAUSE MASS MURDER
As I’m sure many of you know, potatoes were the cause of the infamous Irish Potato Famine. By 1800 the Irish population had doubled because of potatoes. Their diet consisted solely of buttermilk, potatoes, salt, cabbage and fish as seasoning. So when an airborne fungus settled on potato leaves in Dublin, the Irish people were in turmoil.
This fungus whipped out almost all of the potatoes and left people hungry and helpless which led to thousands of deaths. Their dependence on this crop was so great that this unexpected loss of crops caused a huge tragedy.
And so today we, most likely, don’t rely on potatoes as much as the Irish did even though they are commonly consumed everyday from fast food to in the home.
So next time you try a new recipe with potatoes or buy fries at McDonald’s, I hope you know a little more about what you’re eating.