Community, Plants

American Foods

I listened to a comment about Indian Tacos.  Now the only difference between a regular taco and an Indian taco is that the Indian Taco is wrapped in fry bread.  A regular taco is surrounded by a corn (maize) tortilla of some sort.  Fry bread is wheat based – in other words of European origin.  Corn is a crop that was developed and domesticated by Native Americans – Indians in the vernacular.

I can make an argument that the age of exploration was fueled (at least in part) by the limited food choices in Europe.  Scotland raised oats, and had a national cuisine based on oatmeal.  The Brits specialized in a delicacy called gruel.  French history records 111 famines between 1371 and 1791. 

In my lecture notes from the Indians of North America class, I have the sentence written large: “American Indians cultivated over 300 food crops, often with dozens of varieties.”  I’ve lost the source over the years, but I am certain research could confirm it.  As we harvest the garden, the corn, squash and beans typically raised by American Indians are there.  This year we skipped the potatoes – a crop that transformed Europe . . . and brought Ireland from 3.2 million people to 8.2 in about a century (I should have included more sources in my speaking notes).  60% of the world’s edible crops were developed in the New World, by Native Americans.

We barely dignify grain amaranth with a glance – yet it moved from Peru to the highlands of Pakistan, Tibet and Nepal – my foreign students knew the value of a crop that we don’t touch.  Wild rice is neither wild nor rice – it was developed and dispersed by the Ojibwa.  I’m still trying to find a variety for the pond.  China became the largest producer of sweet potatoes – another American crop.

Today, it’s tomatoes on my plate.  I think of spaghetti sauce, of Pizza, and wonder just how limited Italian cooking would be without the crops domesticated by America’s native crop scientists and producers.  Most of the crops in my garden are native to this hemisphere.