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September 26th, 2016

Max’s View

[History Book Review]
The Columbian Exchange (1972)
By Alfred W. Crosby Jr.
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Thank you to our legislature and to the Vermont Retail Grocers Association for mandating that companies label all foods that contain GMOs.

Thanks to this new practice, we will certainly be saved from the ill-health and certain doom of consuming food products that have been genetically modified by man.

Sorry, natural food aficionados. I am being sarcastic. While I respect the fact that your ethos requires you to believe that everything humans do is inherently unhealthy and destructive, history proves that this is not the truth.

For those readers out there who are on the fence about whether or not GMOs are dangerous, I recommend the short history book “The Columbian Exchange.” It will enlighten you. And save you a lot of money on groceries.

We are all taught that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492 and began the process of eradicating the native human population and replacing it with people of European and African origin.

But, according to “The Columbian Exchange,” the other exchanges of flora and fauna between the Old World and the New World were even more dramatic.

Before the white man arrived, the largest domesticated animal in the New World was the Llama. Llamas are good for encouraging you to download the Bank of America mobile app. But little else.

European cattle and horses were introduced by Columbus and they promptly conquered the Americas. Huge packs of wild horses made it through Central and North America a heck of a lot faster than the white man. Pueblo and Comanche Indians discovered and tamed the white man’s horses long before they ever saw an actual European.

For every domesticated cow that was turned into cheap steak for Argentines and Brazilians, several more were roaming free and grazing, changing the landscape of South America forever.

By the way: cows, as they exist today, have been selectively bred to be larger and more docile than the first cattle that were domesticated in Asia Minor 10,000 years ago. In a very real way, every cow you see is a GMO.

To nourish themselves, Europeans relied heavily on wheat and, to a lesser extent, barley. The Columbian Exchange brought new high-yield crops like corn and potatoes to the Old World.

Just as there are anti-GMO fanatics today, I’m sure there were some kooks who argued that growing corn and potatoes in Europe is “unnatural” and therefore dangerous. But eventually, of course, the truth won out.

“The Columbian Exchange” features some neat contemporary drawings of corn and potato plants by fascinated 16th Century Europeans. One can’t help but notice that the corn and potatoes of their time were significantly smaller and less bountiful than the ones we see today at Shaw’s.

Industrious humans selectively modified the genes of New World plants to make them more efficient and more palatable to the hungry masses of the Old World. Thanks to GMOs, famine due to crop failure has been almost entirely eradicated.

Farmers selectively alter food plants to increase crop yields and suit our needs and desires. This is not only natural, it is a basic attribute of human civilization. You can only separate GMOs from other foods if you pretend that human history began on the day that Monsanto was incorporated.

You basically have two choices, Vermont: you can either live in paranoid fear of the GMO bogeyman. Or you can read “The Columbian Exchange” and learn that there is nothing particularly scary or dangerous or new about what is on your dinner table. (Except dessert).

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