Monday, October 13, 2014

Meatless Monday: Musings on the "Great Exchange"

Columbus Day was once a big deal. First designated a holiday in Colorado over one hundred years ago in recognition of the dreams and contributions of the state’s hard-working Italian immigrants, Columbus Day was at one time an official holiday in 35 states. Now it is observed in just 23. In a growing number of places celebrations now honor indigenous people rather than the European explorer most associated with making first contact with the New World: Native American Day (South Dakota), Discoverers’ Day (Hawaii) and Indigenous People’s Day (Seattle and Minneapolis). 

Whatever your take on this “holiday,” it is interesting to reflect upon how much the world changed as a result of the “Age of Exploration.” The Mariners’ Museum terms the interaction of the Old World with the New “The Great Exchange: The Global Exchange of Cultures, Plants, Animals, and Disease.” 

The Museum has prepared a set of study guides to illustrate these changes. Click here to view a list of plants, their origins, how they came to be where they are today, and some of the societal changes unleashed by their successful propagation. 

Old World crops introduced to the Americas include sugar, cotton, bananas, and citrus. Some of the New World crops that were brought back to the Old World are cocoa, the tomato, the potato, and tobacco. 

Can you imagine Italian cuisine without the tomato, or Ireland without the potato? Or Florida and California without oranges and lemons? Or how different the history of the U.S. would have been if cotton had never been introduced to the South? 

If you have time, check out this link about the exchange of animals, and this one about the exchange of diseases. 

Its origins are centuries old, but as we all well know from today’s headlines, the Great Exchange continues to this day. Something to consider on this unique holiday. 

Come back next week for a baked good anyone can make.

Happy Meatless Monday. Good health to you, and to the planet.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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