How Christopher Columbus Changed the Way We Eat
Imagine an Italy without tomato sauce, Ireland without potatoes, Belgium without chocolate. Regardless of your feelings about Christopher Columbus and colonialism, the fact remains that the man irrevocably changed the culinary world when he crossed the ocean blue and made the first major contact with the New World.
"The First Voyage", chromolithograph by L. Prang & Co., 1893 Christopher Columbus bids farewell to the Queen of Spain in 1492.
Columbus was headed out in search of a faster trade routes to Asia, driven in no small part by the desire to cut out the middleman in the lucrative spice trade (black pepper was once valued as highly as gold and silver, believe it or not). Instead, as every elementary schooler knows, Columbus bumped into the Americas and kicked off what's known historically as the great "Columbian Exchange" of plants, animals, people, knowledge, disease, etc.
The foods that Columbus and others following him brought back from the Americas changed the way Europeans ate forever: chocolate, tomatoes, maize, potatoes, pumpkin, squashes, pineapples, chiles, zucchini, beans, and turkeys all came from the New World and became part of the Old.
At the same time, explorers and colonists were bringing European crops across the ocean with them: onions, garlic, grapes, wheat, barley, citrus fruits, and lettuce, along with cattle, pigs, and sheep.
Some of these foods had traveled across the Atlantic before, but never in such magnitude. Just something to chew on as you go about your Columbus Day.