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The Columbian Exchange. What American foods arrived in Europe after the conquest, and what factors dictated their acceptance or rejection? What European foods were introduced to the New World, and how have they shaped its economic and social evolution?

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  • What American foods arrived in Europe after the conquest, and what factors dictated their acceptance or rejection?

  • What European foods were introduced to the New World, and how have they shaped its economic and social evolution?

  • How have new foods been incorporated into existing cultural traditions in both America and Europe?


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New World Foods and what factors dictated their acceptance or rejection?

  • Maize

  • Potatoes

  • Fruits – pineapple, avocado, chirimoya

  • Chocolate


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Meat and what factors dictated their acceptance or rejection?

  • Not many new-world meats adopted by Europeans – e.g. cuy, armadillo, iguana, insects.

  • Turkey an exception.

  • Indians hadn’t domesticated many animals.


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Old World Foods and what factors dictated their acceptance or rejection?

  • Wheat

  • Wine

  • Olive oil

  • Meat – pigs, cows, sheep, chickens.

  • Fruits – oranges. Bernal Díaz claims in his account of the conquest of Mexico that he was the first person to plant an orange tree in that country. Díaz states that, upon landing near Veracruz, he ‘sowed 7 or 8 seeds of oranges, which I had brought from Cuba’.


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Milking Cows and Making Cheese in 18 and what factors dictated their acceptance or rejection?th C Peru


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Cash Crops and what factors dictated their acceptance or rejection?

  • Sugar

  • Coffee

  • Bananas

  • All cultivated in America for European consumption.

  • Major social and economic impact.


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Factors influencing acceptance of new foods and what factors dictated their acceptance or rejection?

  • New foods more likely to be accepted if they resemble ones that are already familiar. Cuys and iguanas not seen as food by Europeans, who don’t eat rodents or reptiles. Potatoes also suspect. Turkeys and beans less alien and more readily adopted.


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  • Exchange of foods determined to a certain extent by luck and fortunate timing.

  • Alan Davidson: ‘If a new food from America appeared, perhaps only by chance, in the right place at the right time, it could be adopted almost at once, whilst in other, less favourable circumstances it could languish for centuries without being exploited’.


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Impact fortunate timing.

  • Crosby: Columbian Exchange ‘probably the greatest biological revolution in the Americas since the end of the Pleistocene era’.

  • Contributed to population growth in Europe by diversifying and improving the diet.

  • Had an impact on Africa and Asia, too. Manioc a staple crop in the Congo.


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  • Spaniards dispersed American foods around the New World – e.g. chocolate to Peru, potatoes to Virginia.

  • Europeans adopted mainly Indian plants, whilst Indians benefited most from European meats. Europeans also ate more meat in America.

  • Some American foods adopted by the elite (chocolate), others marketed as a famine food for the poor (potatoes).


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Cultural Impact e.g. chocolate to Peru, potatoes to Virginia.

  • Capybaras eaten during Lent because they live in the water and are conveniently classified as ‘fish’.

  • Pork fat also eaten during Lent.

  • Question of whether chocolate breaks the ecclesiastical fast.


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