Vince Two Eagles
The Rez of the Story
Potatoes are Indigenous to the Americas
By Vince Two Eagles Hau Mitakuepi (Greetings My Relatives), As you hoist that extra helping of delicious mashed potatoes (we all do it) on your Thanksgiving plate this year consider the following FYI to add to your growing knowledge of Native America. Thus if your children, grandchildren or anyone else you call kin asks, "Where do potatoes come from?" You can take advantage of a teachable moment that just might start the ball rolling as far as abandoning some of your families stereotypes about Native people that have assigned us to the marginalized category of human history. According to Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield, co-authors of American Indian Contributions to the World, our relative the "Potato plants belong to the Solanacea family, to which Tobacco, Tomatoes, and Chilies, also belong. Over 200 varieties of wild potatoes grow from what is now Colorado to what are now Chile and Argentina. The indigenous peoples of the Andean region of South America were the first to domesticate potatoes and to cultivate them as a food crop. The earliest potato, found in an archaeological site in central Peru, has been dated to about 8000 B.C. Scientists believe that American Indians began domesticating potatoes at the end of the ice age. Four thousand years later, indigenous people living in the Andean highlands had begun to rely on potatoes as a major part of their diet. By about 2000 B.C. Indians in the coastal region of what is now Peru were also cultivating this crop extensively." They go on to report, "During the reign of the Inca, who established their empire in what is now Peru in about A.D. 1000, American Indian farmers were growing not only white potatoes but red, yellow, black, blue, green, and brown ones as well. They were deliberately developing potatoes of varying sizes and shapes that would do well under a number of growing conditions [Sound like empty headed "savages" to you?]. Because potatoes are easily grown, flourishing in a number of climates, and are high in both vitamin C and starch, they were an efficient way of meeting dietary needs for a number of people." They continue, "In 1531 when Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro landed in what is now Peru, the indigenous Andean people had developed about 3,000 [yes, that's three thousand] types of potatoes and had also invented a method to freeze dry them for storage. The Inca . . . . ate boiled potatoes as a vegetable and also made a kind of unleavened potato bread made from flour that had been ground from freeze-dried potatoes. They also added this potato flour to soups and stews and made a gruel, or porridge, from it."
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My theory is that somewhere along the way after thousands of years cooking potatoes somebody, somewhere must have dropped a boiled potatoes and accidentally stepped on the dropped potato, consequently smashed it under foot, and inadvertently invented "mashed potatoes." Keoke and Porterfield continue, "On one hand, many self-appointed experts claimed that the potato was not fit for human consumption because it had not been mentioned in the Bible. In 1618 potatoes were banned in the Burgundy region of France because people were convinced that eating them caused leprosy. In Switzerland experts blamed potatoes for causing scrofula, a disease characterized by swollen glands and coughing. Some European Orthodox religious sects declared the potato the devil's plant and made it a sin for their members to eat it." "Irish tenant farmers became so dependent on the potato for their subsistence that a series of blights in the mid-1800s caused widespread starvation. Unlike South American Indian farmers, who planted a number of varieties of potatoes as an insurance against crop failure, Europeans had become dependent on one variety--the "Irish" potato. Within the space of a few years, the population of Ireland decreased from 9 million to about 4 million because of deaths as a result of the famine, emigration and other causes." "As a final thought on the subject of the now famous potato (especially at Thanksgiving time) they conclude, "Today about 250 varieties of potatoes are grown in the United States, with 20 of these varieties constituting three-fourths of the total harvest." And now you know the rez of the story. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Someday we'll get it right. Doksha (later). . . Find the award-winning Lakota Country Times on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.
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