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UNIT 16: Food, Demographics, and Culture

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Food and the Columbian Exchange: The Atlantic Voyages

In the late fifteenth century, European voyages back and forth across the Atlantic initiated the "Columbian Exchange" — that is, the exchange of foods, diseases, plants, animals, and peoples between the Americas and the "Old World." Its effects were no less than monumental in terms of economics, the environment, demography, and culture.

This video segment explores some of the culinary effects of the Columbian Exchange that were initiated in those very first Atlantic voyages. Although European ships were stocked with a variety of foods as they set out, by the time they arrived in the Americas sailors had been forced to make do with weevil-infested sea biscuits, rats, and seagulls. Once in the "New World," Europeans found themselves in a culinary world very different from their own. Indigenous plants — chili peppers, cacao, and cassava — as well as animals provided new tastes. Traders transported some plants, such as chilies, around the world, transforming the cuisines of far-distant places in the process. Other plants, such as cassava, transformed the diets of West Africans and were used to inexpensively feed large numbers of slaves.

Europeans did more than simply adopt and disperse indigenous American foods, however. They also brought their own plants and animals to the Americas, which had both cultural and environmental effects. Meat from pigs and cattle altered native diets, but they also caused soil erosion and disrupted indigenous farming practices. In addition, the introduction of European crops led to deforestation.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, A PAGE OF THE ORIGINAL EDICT SIGNED BY FERDINAND AND ISABELLA (1492). Courtesy of Junta de Castilla Leon, Consejeria de Cultura y Turismo, Archivo Historico Provincial.

Anonymous, THE AFRICANS OF THE SLAVE BARK "WILDFIRE" (1860). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Pieter Aertsen, MARKET WOMAN AT VEGETABLE STAND (1567). Courtesy of WorldArt Kiosk/Kathleen Cohen.

Anonymous, DEPART DE CHRISTOPHE COLOMB (1850). Courtesy of The Library of Congress.



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