Thursday, May 9, 2019

Four Food That Changed the World.

Salad, Figs, Cheese, Goat CheeseWe don't usually think about food as something that changed the world other than the development of coffee houses or such but it's true. Each of these items changed the world, yet we often eat them every day without knowing their historical influence.

For instance, bread caused a revolution.  yes, you read that right and are probably wondering how that happened.  Well back in the mid 1700's in France, bread was important to the Frenchman's diet.  The first thing to know is that bread was considered a public service needed to prevent people from rioting so bakers were classified as public servants under the control of the police department.

In addition, the average worker used half of his daily earnings to buy bread for the day, but due to the grain crop failing two years in a row, and by 1789, the price of bread rose so the average worker now spent 88 percent of his daily wage on bread.  Add in a tax on salt which unfairly targeted the poor, and the lower class rose up in anger.  As far as historians can tell, Marie Antoinette never actually said "Let them eat cake" when informed.

Not too many years before this event taxes levied on tea encouraged a bunch of people to board ships and throw 45 tons of tea over board in Boston Harbor, sparking the slogan stating "no taxation without representation" because the British Government had the right to levy taxes in the colonies as they wished.  The tea tax had been passed to help the flailing East Indian Company by giving them a monopoly.  Unfortunately, the Americans tended to smuggle in cheaper tea from the Dutch.  After a series of actions by the British Government, war broke out and America gained its independence.

Of course you can also look at bananas as causing changes in government.  American companies often spread out to Latin American countries to start plantations to grow bananas because it was economically cheaper.  In the process of starting up plantations, these companies also gained quite a lot of political power.  One company, United Fruit Company, built railroads for countries in exchange for land, they became entwined with the local government.  This company often got out of paying taxes, or paid workers in company script which could only be used in company stores.

Eventually in Guatemala, the president of that country wanted the United Fruit Company to sell its lands back to the government.  Instead the company sent a report to the United States Government indicating that communism was trying to get its foot in the door and the company's PR people brought journalists down who wrote dozens of articles to support them.  Eventually, the CIA came in and tossed the president out.  They stripped him down to his underwear and marched him to the airport where he boarded a plane never to return in 1954.  You know this company because they are known today as Chiquita Bananas.

Last for this column are potatoes.  Potatoes originated in South America and made their way over to Europe in the 16th century.  Potatoes are easy to grow, cheap, and filling so many folks took to growing them, especially in Ireland but one day in 1845, several farmers noticed the leaves of their potato plants turn black.  When the farmers dug up the potatoes, they appear fine but within days they'd rotted due to an infestation of a fungus. Unfortunately, the Irish climate was perfect for the fungus and it grew and spread rapidly causing the "Potato Famine."

What made it difficult for most of the Irish is that they didn't own the land they worked.  They paid rent to absentee owners but as the crops failed, they were evicted for not paying rents.    During the famine, the government started soup kitchens to feed people but over three million people lined up to receive one meal a day but the cost was prohibitive and they had to shut them down.  Over the next four years, it is estimated that at least one million people died and over 1.5 million people immigrated to the United States. One vegetable caused so many people to flee or die.

I hope you found this topic as interesting as I did.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.

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