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American Journal of Potato Research

, Volume 93, Issue 5, pp 415–429 | Cite as

Impact of the Potato on Society

  • H. De JongEmail author
INVITED REVIEW

Abstract

The first impact of the potato on society was the intimate relationship between the domestication of the potato and the evolution of Andean civilization which affected Andean culture and religion. In addition to food potatoes were used for several non-food purposes. In the Inca Empire the freeze-dried chuño was collected as taxes from the peasants and disbursed from imperial storehouses to labor gangs for building roads, waging war, and erecting monuments. After the Spanish conquest chuño was used to feed the slaves in the Andean silver and gold mines. This in turn set the stage for flooding the Spanish and eventually the global market with these precious metals and subsequent world-wide inflation of consumer goods. The potato became the major contributor to the European population explosion of 1750–1850 which in turn resulted in increased urbanization and contributed to the underpinning of the Industrial Revolution in England in the nineteenth century. By feeding rapidly growing populations the potato permitted a small number of nations in northern Europe to assert dominion over much of the world between 1750 and 1950. The failure of the potato crop in Ireland in the 1840s led Britain to repeal the protectionist Corn Laws and set the country on a path of free trade. At least one million Irish refugees emigrated, mostly to North America where they left a great legacy. The past 50 years have seen a major global shift in potato production towards many developing countries in Asia, including China and India. Throughout its history the potato has provided bread for the poor. Today it contributes to food security on a global scale. The potato’s depiction on postage stamps demonstrates the esteem in which it is held worldwide and the many references to the potato in art, literature and folklore worldwide are evidence how it has become interwoven in the cultures of many societies today.

Keywords

Domestication Chuño History Food security Population explosion Bread for the poor Consumption pattern 

Resumen

El primer impacto de la papa en la sociedad fue la relación íntima entre su domesticación y la evolución de la civilización Andina, la cual afectó la cultura y la religión de los Andes. Además de como alimento, las papas se usaron para varios propósitos no alimentarios. En el Imperio Inca, el chuño deshidratado-congelado se colectaba como impuesto a los campesinos y se desembolsaba de los almacenes imperiales a grupos de trabajo para la construcción de caminos, tributos de guerra y para la erección de monumentos. Después de la conquista española, el chuño se usó para alimentar a los esclavos en las minas andinas de plata y oro. Esto a su vez estableció el escenario para inundar a los españoles y eventualmente al mercado global con estos metales preciosos y la inflación mundial subsecuente de bienes de consumo. La papa se volvió en la mayor contribuyente para la explosión demográfica europea de 1750–1850, que a su vez resultó en aumento en la urbanización y contribuyó a sustentar la revolución industrial en Inglaterra en el siglo 19. Mediante la alimentación de poblaciones en rápido crecimiento, la papa permitió a un pequeño número de naciones en el norte de Europa afirmarse el dominio sobre una gran parte del mundo entre 1750 y 1950. El fracaso del cultivo de la papa en Irlanda en los 1840’s condujo a la Gran Bretaña a derogar las leyes proteccionistas del maíz y ubicó al país en una ruta del libre mercado. Por lo menos un millón de refugiados irlandeses emigró, principalmente a Norteamérica en donde dejaron un gran legado. Los últimos 50 años han visto un giro global mayúsculo en la producción de papa en muchos países en desarrollo en Asia, incluyendo China y la India. A través de su historia la papa ha suministrado pan para el pobre. Hoy contribuye a la seguridad alimentaria a escala global. La papa plasmada en estampillas postales demuestra la estimación en la que se encuentra a nivel mundial, y la multitud de referencias de la papa en el arte, literatura y folklor mundialmente son evidencias de como se ha asimilado en las culturas de muchas sociedades hoy.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The author thanks Dr. Shelley Jansky, University of Wisconsin, for her encouragement. The assistance of librarians André Gionet and Dorothy Drew, at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Research and Development Centres in Fredericton NB and London ON respectively is much appreciated. The constructive criticism by two anonymous reviewers is gratefully acknowledged.

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Copyright information

© The Potato Association of America 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fredericton Research and Development CentreAgriculture and Agri-Food CanadaFrederictonCanada
  2. 2.VirgilCanada

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