schwartz - "The Great Food Migration" by John...

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by John Schwartz in "Newsweek" (Special Issue, Fall/Winter 1991, pp. 58-62) Imagine, if you will, a time when English food was actually worse than it is today. Imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes, or Mexican food that was literally grub--insect larvae, as well as eggs. Columbus, sailing West in search of Eastern spices and gold, brought about cultural revolutions that reached virtually every nation in the world. The changes in the global menu don't simply mean better eating--the new foods altered the fates of nations and strengthened a growing sense of national identity. "The French, Italian, and Spanish food 'traditions' we now think of as primeval all sprang up relatively recently," writes Raymond Sokolov in his new book "Why We Eat What We Eat," "and would be unrecognizable without the American foods sent across the water, mostly in Spanish boats." Europe was certainly ready for a change. The lower and merchant classes had put up with a dull menu for years. Peasants commonly ate dark bread made with rye and wheat; cabbage soup and cheeses (or cheese curds) filled out a typical meal. Wealthier families ate much of the same things, but they enjoyed more variety in flavors, thanks to the obsession with Asian spices that first set Columbus on his way. Spices also had a practical purpose for the pre-refrigerator era: they blanketed the smell and flavor of decay. At the upper end of the social scale, meals approached the orgiastic. A noble meal might include whole roasted peacocks with skin and feathers reattached after cooking--or even four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. "Presentation was enormously important," says Bridget Henisch, a food historian at State College in Pennsylvania. Feasts, she explains, "went with the whole medieval enjoyment of heraldry and drama, the music and trumpets announcing the arrival of the main dish." The thing they were hungriest for was novelty--and Columbus provided it. Each new cargo transformed the European menu. The Americas may not have produced traditional spices and condiments such as clove, ginger, cardamom and almonds, but they produced potatoes, corn and other colorful crops that excited the 16th-century palate. Peanuts and vanilla, as well as green beans, pineapple and turkey all broadened the horizons of European chefs. Some of the exotic new crops had humble beginnings; before the tomato made its way into the cuisines of Spain, Italy and other European societies, it was a weed in the Aztec maize fields. The Aztecs came to cultivate tomatoes in astonishing
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This note was uploaded on 05/09/2010 for the course GEO 155/163 taught by Professor David during the Spring '10 term at UCSB.

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schwartz - "The Great Food Migration" by John...

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