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Potatoes, Earth and Society Features 

Potatoes, Earth and Society


“The potato is a remarkable plant. It can grow in a wide range of climates and altitudes, it is much more productive than any other staple crop, and its tubers are so nutritious that it is possible for people to live on them alone. It has contributed to changing the course of history in numerous ways, from the rise of the Inca empire, in native Peru, to the wars in Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries and the terrible famine that occurred in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century”.

One of the ways that South American plants get nutrients is from the dust of the Sahara Desert. There is an air current from the Sahara Desert to Brazil, traveling across the Atlantic Ocean. This dust goes to the regions in between Peru and Bolivia, where it influenced the growth of vegetation including the first potatoes.

The first potatoes don’t look very yummy. They were bitter and poisonous. It was domesticated in the 14th century that separated the toxins but not the bitter flavor of the vegetable. However, the potato could now be transported to be eaten, and so began its journey. From in-between Peru and Bolivia, it traveled to the grand majority of South America, where the Inca Empire was established. The Incas had tried harvesting corn, only to discover it did not work in their land. They tried potatoes, and the vegetable worked so well they based their farming system on potatoes, as well as other crops that could tolerate the conditions. It was this food that allowed the Incas to become the dominating empire.

The Inca empire first began to dominate in 1438, when leader Pachacuti began to rule. They dominated a great part of South America until 1532. And then Fracisco Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador, came along. Spanish workers formed alliances with unhappy Inca slaves, and with the power of monumental technology, conquered the Incas. Pizarro took the leader, Atahualpa, prisoner and unfairly executed the native dominator– why was that unfair? He had payed Pizarro a lot of gold and silver, in exchange for giving his people as slaves to the Spanish. After Pizarro, more Spaniards came, lured by the stories of gold and silver. They made the native Incas slaves and fed them the native potatoes. Spain first took potatoes back to the Canary Islands in 1570 and were spread around Europe. They were used as food for animals and medicinal purposes.

There is one exception to the general disinterest of the potatoes. Soldiers used to eat potatoes provided by the dominators of Europe. In any war in Europe, there were soldiers eating them. Europe in the years of 1650’s and 1850’s saw the obvious benefits of eating potatoes. Potatoes were resistant to the cold weather and became a principle factor after thriving and maturing in the natural growth cycle. After some time, people cultivated the potato all the time and it became one of Europe’s food staple.Then, Ireland became a huge consumer of potatoes: the country rarely grew anything else! This would have consequences in the future.

The Famine of Ireland

The famine’s effects are first seen in 1845, drastically changing Ireland’s history. In the Irish language, it is known as “An Gorta Mór”, meaning “The Great Hunger”. There are two extremely different opinions of why it happened. The first one argues a “sudden infestation of Late Blight (…) coming from continental Europe” was the cause of the famine. A second opinion argues it was implemented by the British Government to destroy Catholic culture, therefore it was genocide. Some reasons to argue that the Irish famine was a genocide, is that famines are political and environmental, which gives the case a lot of material to work with.

The Irish famine took place from 1845 to 1849. One million people left Ireland, migrating to Europe, Australia, New Zealand and America; changing the history of these places. Another million died, causing a total of 25% of depopulation in Ireland, all because of potato transport/migration done in the past. Official rulers of Ireland, such as the Irish executive and the poor law commissioner sought help from London, Britain. London officials regarded the tragedy as local rather than national. This prompts the idea of genocide from critiques such as Jens Meierhenrich, author of ‘Genocide’. (A detailed description of political events can be found on p.187-190 of this book).

Curiously, it’s at this time when ‘chips’ or potato fries came to London, Britain, from the Irish migrating! “Modern Fish and Chips arouse at the latest by 1860, as Ashkenazi Jews began to move into London and integrate Sepharic foods and customs. One of the earliest known Fish and Chips shops was opened by Ashkenazi Jewish proprietor Joseph Malin, combining the new fired potatoes with Jewish fried fish and serving everything warm rather than cold”. ‘Fish and chips’ was originally a dish called Sikbāj made in Persia.

The potato arrived quite early compared to many other parts of Europe”. It was quite popular in the poor communities of the West coast, who had access to “small plots of land”. The growth of the potato expansion was proportional to the population growth. Soon, almost all of Ireland was growing potatoes on the land owned by land lords, “who often lived in England”. Poor people paid the rent to the land lords, potatoes sustaining entire families at a time. However, the potatoes were poorly resistant to diseases. Adding few variety in crops was the final factor in the equation for a devastating disease.

Late Blight’s scientific name is “Phytophthora Infestans”. The infectious bacteria is a “oomycte, a fungus – like microorganism that produces spores that spread in the wind. Blight infection begins with blotches on the leaf and quickly spread through the plant so that the potato rots on the ground”.

Back in 1845, there were no preserving method like the ones available today. The poor people on the West coast relied exclusively on potatoes, making them the most vulnerable to the famine.

“Today, Blight is controlled by preventive means because, once a crop has become infected, there is no way of stopping the infection from killing the plant”. Chances are, that once the symptoms appear in one plant, the rest are infected.

The story of The Great Famine of Ireland goes to show the impact of a single vegetable in the world.

Potatoes in the Rest of The World

In countries like Africa, and the island country? of Dominicana, people rely on potatoes as their food staple. Despite not having upgraded technology, potatoes still prosper. The vegetable is still found in its original habitat: regions in-between Peru and Bolivia.

Relying on a single variety of crops to provide food makes a population vulnerable to pests and disease as demonstrated by the Irish Famine of the 19th century.

Linguistic Advertising Techniques in Potato Chip Bags

“(…) What are the suitable linguistic techniques used by snack advertisers?”.

Potato chip bags come in all sorts of brands, almost all belong to one company. “(…) One universal characteristic of potato chip advertising: potato chips turn out to be a “healthy food”, at least in the special world inhabited by advertising copywriters”. All the potato chip bags were covered with language emphasizing how healthy “it is for you, words like “healthier”, “0 trans fat”, “low fat”, “no cholesterol”, “lowest sodium levels”.

The ridiculous emphasis on health is an admission (admittance?) that the manufactures are well aware that you may be skeptical of the nutritional value of their products”.

Manufactures don’t have too much variation on the health benefits on inexpensive and expensive potato chip bags. In fact, it is the expensive potato chips that have more health advertisements, “as often as 6 times per bag!”.

The Differences Keep on Appearing,Level of Language; Natural Authenticity, also known as Craft Authenticity by Researchers; Differentiation, Comparison of Language; Class Values, Distinct Parts of Our Personality.

Another targeting technique for the middle to upper class are the use of complex words and sentences. “The simplest way of measuring these complex words is counting the number of letters in the average word”, as well as counting the number of words in the average sentence. These two techniques are used to find a grade level of the language. Another example in finding the level of a language is “ the widespread flesh-kincaid” technique.

Natural authenticity is often seen in “phrases like natural sea salt, absolutely nothing artificial , only the finest potatoes, or hand-raked every batch”. This language is especially seen in expensive potato chip bags.

Differential and comparison just mean emphasizing what makes a brand different, in contrast to other brands. Words like more or less, suffixes like –er, or superlative words like least, best or finest are part of the Differential and Comparative language. All or some of these factors are seen in phrases like “a crunchy bite you won´t find in any other chip” or “less fat than other leading brands”.

Advertisements also play on the values of the classes. Upper class are obsessed with Distinction, uniqueness and being specific, as well as education and health. “Advertisers presume that consumers of less expensive chips are more concerned with family and tradition (…)”.

Linguistic Devices are also associated with a specific class. Suffix –in is related to country or working class and the suffix “ing” is related to the upper class. Even politicians use these suffixes, particularly the “–ing” suffix to convey ideas to the upper class.

The different values of the classes can also be applied to ourselves. Psychologists Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner demonstrate there are two audiences that are related to two aspects of our personality. These two aspects of our personality are used in different times depending on the situation. Interdependent self focuses on the values of “family, traditions and our relationships of people. The independent self is our focus on our need to be unique and independent.

These two distinct parts of our personality flourish in different situations. ”In other words, like Warren Hellman, we are all fluid categories, combinations of these two models of our nation and ourselves – models written on the back of every bag of potato chips”.

In conclusion, potatoes are awesome! They have impacted the survival of humanity in Ireland and the Holocaust. Variations of dishes include potatoes as part of the typical ingredient in recipes and potatoes are seen every day, such as potato chips. Potato chips are conventional snacks eaten by low, middle and upper class.

Written By: Tatterhood

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