Thursday, October 27, 2011

History beyond crowns and palaces: The potato miracle

History is not only what we have learned in school about kings palaces and glorious battles.Beyond the kings the generals and the artists there is also the mass. These are the majority of the people who are always in the background and never make it into the pages of history.We know a little about what these people were thinking ,where they were living and what they were eating.That history is unknown to us but this is the history of our ancestors since the chances of someone being a descendant of kings or generals is tiny.
Peruvian potatoes. One of these species was brought by Spaniards and expanded in Europe .

In medieval Europe lunch was the main objective in a peasant's life.A peasant was working and struggling in order to find his daily ration of food to ensure the survival of himself and his family.The menu in a medieval house was only bread. The meat was very expensive and vegetables were very rare to find.The frequent bad harvests of wheat caused starvations which resulted the death of thousands of people.The lack of fruits and vegetables in a   peasant's diet was the main cause that many people were suffering from avitaminosis. The worse thing about avitaminosis was that it was the basic cause for various skin diseases which were all named as leprosy.Leprosy was a very common disease during these times, it could hit you like a nowadays common flu.
Leprosy was common among the peasants and it was caused by avitaminosis because of the lack of fruits and vegetables in their diet.

The situation changed a bit in 1530. The Spaniards except from the annihilation of the American tribes did also something good for humanity and more particular for the Europeans. They brought a fruit from Peru which they called potato.The discovery of potato was so valuable for the peasants and farmers that we could compare it with the importance of the discovery of compass for the navigators.

In contrast with the difficult to cultivate wheat  the potato could grow even in not fertile grounds and its cultivation demands are a lot cheaper.Only one potato was enough to provide a lunch for a multi member family. Chamberlain a historian of the renaissance estimates that potato from 1580 to 1700 saved from starvation 50 million people.

Greek potato
Ioannis Kapodistrias: the man who brought potato in Greece

Because of the Ottoman occupation Greece was in the eastern sphere of influence and its acquaintance with the potato was postponed some centuries.Particularly during the 19th century Ioannis Kapodistrias the first governor of Greece was the man that brought  potatoes in Greece.
 At the beginning the Greeks were suspicious with this new "vegetable". There were so many rumours about what it could cause when it was eaten or how bad was its taste that noone accepted to take any potato seeds from the government's storeroom.Kapodistrias then thought of making a trick to encourage the greeks to start producing potatoes.He ordered some soldiers to guard the storeroomwith the potato seeds. The rumour spread among the Greeks that Kapodistrias was putting guards in front of the building with the potato seeds.This made them think that these seeds were valuable since the governor was putting guards specially in the front of that building. One by one many farmers were sneaking in the building to steal the potato seeds with the consent of the guards who had orders to turn a blind eye on what was happening.

1 comment:

ayub said...

Its interesting information about potato, nice to read.

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