Essay about Christopher Columbus, Corn and Potatoes: How the New World Fed the Old

Essay about Christopher Columbus, Corn and Potatoes: How the New World Fed the Old

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How the New World Fed the Old

Christopher Columbus’ discoveries were widely known and highly influential, but more so, the things he brought back to his homeland would pave the way for future development. Food is and will always be one of the most essential elements for the survival of humanity. It is not surprising that the Old World (Europe) primarily developed the way it did because of the influence of food mostly derived from the New World. Alfred W. Crosby discusses this in his article, “The Potato Connection – How the New World Fed the Old”. Varieties of foreign diseases, currency, spices and various crops made their mark in European history.
International trading has contributed to both positive and negative effects. During trades, the Old World contributed new types of foods and animals to the New World. Such things would include wheat, barley, peas, cattle, house cat, etc. However, it was what the New World sent back that had an immense effect on the Old World. It has been suspected that Columbus brought back Syphilis, a devastating outbreak that infected the Old World’s population. However, it was maize and white potato which would prove to overcome devastating circumstances and aid in the growth of the ever expanding Old World.
Maize was first introduced to the Europeans by the Taino Indians. The American Indians used this crop for a variety of reasons to even include worshipping “maize gods”. Maize would be able to provide for humanity more than any other crop. The Old World had the labor power and land to produce such crop. Continuously growing in the vast majorities of fields, the crop is protected by its husk from the weather, birds and rodents. Being able to grow in most any type of weather condition, mai...

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...ement this growing demand for nourishment. The New World would contribute to this, as potatoes and maize could withstand harsh weather conditions around the world. In times of hardships, these same crops proved to overcome famine. This would in turn be able to help families survive. Without such hardy crops, the world’s population would be significantly reduced, leading to a ripple effect of technology not advancing and scientific revelations left undiscovered. The current goal is to continue to produce similar crops to the potato and maize which would continue to aid in the nourishment of the growing world.


Alfred W. Crosby, “The Potato Connection. How the New World Fed the Old,” pp. 20-23 in Mitchell & Mitchell, eds. Annual Editions. World History Volume 2: 1500- Present. 8th edition. Dubuque, IA: McGraw Hill/Dushkin, 2005.

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