Travels of the Potato
Adapted from chapter 6 of 1493 by Charles C. Mann It
describes event flowing from the 1492 discovery -- often called the
Columbian Exchange. Outline below poorly captures 44 pages.
- Intro paragraph to chapter ends:
Modern farmers ignore the seed (of potatoes), instead cutting up tubers and planting
the pieces -- now tubers are called "seed potatoes."
paragraph is filled with fanciful items to attract the reader -- o.k. in
a book with chapters titled as this one "Potato Wars."]
- Today the potato is the fifth most important crop worldwide
the author is off around the world but comes back].
- Potatoes are about three-quarters water and one-quarter starch but
have vitamins enough to prevent scurvy if consumed in quantity.
research by Poles, Irish and Brits and the first potato war.]
- Compared to grains, tubers are inherently more productive.
grains that fall over as opposed to potatoes supported in thin the ground.]
- Many scholars believe that the introduction of tubers to Europe
was a key moment in history.
[leads to great quote from McNeill
"potatoes by feeding rapidly growing populations, permitted a handful
of Europeans nations to assert domination over most of the world between
1750 and 1950."]
- As important in the long run, the European and North American
adoption of the potato set the template for modern agriculture--the
- Not only did the Columbian Exchange carry the ultra-productive potato
to Europe and North America, it also brought ultra-productive Andean
potato-cultivation techniques, including the world's first fertilizer:
[Once again the author spins a tale that also in the
next paragraph leads to first inorganic pesticide -- arsenic --
and then to the development of the third component of modern
agribusiness: modern pesticide industry.]
The first section establishes the importance of the potato. The rest
of the chapter explores many aspects of the story -- a rich tapestry.
See tight form of above TSO
The chapter continues with sections entitled:
- Sea of Genes. But the route is roundabout.
- Farming techniques in the Andes leads to many
of potato varieties: 3700 cultivated and many wild.
- But in Europe planting tuber pieces lead to a mono variety that
eventually solved the 'food problem' of Europe.
- It is hard to be precise but the introduction of the potato was as
important to the modern age as the invention of the steam engine.
- The guano age
- Peruvian booby, cormorant and pelican nested on Chicha Islands for
millennia and covered the islands with guano layer as much as 150 feet
[Author goes on to extol the virtue of guano (nitrogen rich)
and glories of bird urine in building layer on the Chicha islands.]
- Andean indians discovered (perhaps about ~1000) that guano --
transported by llama - replenished depleted soils.
- It took time to convince European of the glories of guano but by
1850 the trade was worth at least $13 billion in today's dollar.
- The start of fertilizer export is not a pretty story. Slaves, many
imported from China, were essential to the trade.
- When guano gave out, it was replaced by nitrates mined from
deposits in Chilean desert.
- While guano set the template for modern agriculture, fortunately
German chemistry synthesized nitrogen-rich compounds that spawned
the start of modern chemical industries.
- Thoroughly Modern Farming.
- Not a nice subject. Starts with blight. Ireland emptied out.
- It turns out that Andes agriculture didn't have blights but no one
had noticed that was the case or wondered why. Eventually science
came to the rescue but...
- Beetles came and other things. We still have problems. But we don't
know why or don't want to.
- The chapter ends with a neighbor of the author blaming the 2000 New
England blight as follows: "Those tomatoes come from China."
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