America, Serving Platter of Cultural Delicacies

“Dinner is ready!” The three words we are all delighted to hear.

As Europeans began departing from the Old World in search of new lands, natives to the rich American soil lived in harmony with nature. Contact between distinct cultures would soon occur causing immediate change to the world, for better or worse. Daring explorers ventured into the unknown and were welcomed by an environment they had not encountered before. It was not until Christopher Columbus voyaged to what he believed were the “Indies” in 1492 that significantly impacted the Old and New Worlds. Europe exploited the new resources they stumbled upon, contributing to the developing of the global economic system. As Europe began taking advantage of the American land, Europeans began to settle into the Western Hemisphere introducing their lifestyle, arousing what came to be known as the Columbian Exchange.

We are all aware of the significant impact both worlds made to each other. Domesticated animals, plants, and diseases are among the list of introductions as we learn in Charles Mann’s “America Lost and Found”. The America we know today would have not been established if the first European settlers did not have enough energy to work and reason (leading to the questioning of authority). Where would they find such energy? Through their daily meals. Food, often seen as the nutritious substance providing nourishment for the soul, guaranteeing plants, animals, and us alike nutritional support. Whether it is breakfast (if you were a poor colonist you had breakfast early), lunch (lunch was not common during colonial times), dinner (biggest meal at noon), supper (colonial evening meal) or brunch, the majority of us appreciate the food we enjoy eating. So did the colonists when they were beginning to settle into the Americas.

Imagine yourself not being able to enjoy your lunch without an apple, a peach. Imagine yourself not being able to consume a sweet cabbage salad, cabbage stew, a burrito or a taco. Visualize a morning in which you cannot add sugar to your cereal (unless you don’t) or enjoy other sugary foods. Think about where you will find your source for Vitamin A (no more carrots). Native Americans were not able to taste some of these common items (common to us today) until the Europeans traveled to America with them. The sugar cane thrived in the climate of the New World specifically that of the Dominican Republic, introduced in 1492 by Columbus. Sugar was considered a rare luxury in Europe for preserving and adding flavor to food. How could a growing population be fed? With high demands for unknown goods in Europe and the cultivation of new foods, the increasing population was sustained. The profits gained from trading and exporting goods greatly benefitted colonial commerce later on in the triangular trade. This post does not focus on the economic success of trading and exporting instead on how the interaction between distinct cultures led to the plant exchange. Old World crops such as rice, beet, celery, grapefruit, lemon, barley, oats, turnips, and onions are just a few plants brought into America. The list could continue on but this would expand the post making it sound more like a simple list.

Now think about how Europeans of today would not have been able to bite into a hot pepper, try a tomato sandwich, or enjoy pasta with tomato sauce. Europeans would not have been able to try out such foods if they had not taken Native American plants back to Europe. John Rolfe was able to ship tobacco into the Old World from the Caribbean and later cultivated Nicotiana Tabacum in Jamestown, exporting 50,000 pounds of tobacco by 1620. Europeans were not able to consume pumpkin pie until it arrived into Europe. Corn, beans, squash, and pineapples are just a few of the crops taken to Europe. How would our soldiers survive during WWII in the case of an emergency? How would they be spiritually motivated? With rationed chocolate, of course. Would we have been able to enjoy chocolate without different cultures working together indirectly? No, we would not have. The cacao bean was growing in the Western Hemisphere long before explorers arrived. It was not until Hernando Cortes was welcomed with a banquet of chocolate by Aztec King Montezuma (at least that is how the story goes) that Europeans encountered chocolate. Drinking chocolate became popular in Europe throughout the 17th century but it had a rough taste, better put, “A bitter drink for pigs”, a foreigner wrote. Years later in Europe, the chocolate recipe was perfected, sweetened with sugar and possibly honey.

“About three-fifths of the crops cultivated around the globe today originated in America”-American Pageant 11th edition. After new crops arrived in Europe, they traveled to Asia. In one instance, chili peppers conquered Thai, Chinese, and Indian kitchens. Soon recipes from various cultures started to be traded around the globe. Uniting groups of people, with individuals from different backgrounds. America, (or at least part of America) the United States we currently reside in, is culturally diverse. As I hear the three words, “Dinner is ready!” I wonder what new foods I will be able to taste.


The American Pageant 11th edition –Thomas A. Bailey, David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen


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