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The Roots of Old and New World Foods
These reading activities were adapted from exercises in College Reading 2, by Linda Robinson. This book will be published in fall 2004. Copied with permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
1
When the Spanish conquered the New World in the late 1400s, their goal was to find gold and silver, which they did in enormous quantities. Although these metals were important to the Spanish and world economies of the time, they probably did not have an immediate, noticeable impact on the lives of common people. Much less desired, but infinitely more imortant in the everyday life of the whole world today, is the variety of new foods which the New World explorers uncovered. Since that time, a wide range of foods first grown by indigenous 1 Americans has taken the world by storm.2
2
Imagine that you went to an Italian restaurant, and they had no tomatoes available. Would there be anything you could eat which would be Italian? Yet, just a few centuries ago, tomatoes were totally unknown outside of Central and South America. The list certainly does not stop there. For example, Indian and Pakistani cooking are known to the rest of the world as very hot, yet the hot part comes mostly from different varieties of peppers, all of which come from the New World....
3
Imagine a world without any sort of bean, squash, zucchini, or pumpkin, all originally American. One might say that humanity can survive without them, and that is probably true. But now picture a world without potatoes. If the prodouction of potatoes was suddenly stopped for some reason, much of the world would be distressed. When that happened in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century,3  millions of people died or were forced to emigrate due to starvation. Of course, today the result would not be so drastic, but what would European cooking be without potatoes and tomatoes? What would McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants be with no French fries and no ketchup?
4
However, the discovery of new foods did not just go one way, from the New to the Old World. The Spanish brought with them a number of products that completely changed the native cooking and diet of the Americas.4 Most modern recipes in Mexican and other Latin American5countries could not have existed before the arrival of the Spanish. They introduced Latin Americans to beef, pork, chicken, chicken eggs, rice,onions, garlic, all cheeses, butter, cooking oils, wheat flour, breads, sugar, milk, and the frying process itself...to mention just a few essential ingredients.
5
Both the New and the Old Worlds underwent culinary revolutions of unprecedented suddenness in world history. In less than two centuries, they created mixtures of old incredients and cooking processes and new ones which blended so harmoniously6 that today the people of both of these regions of the world don't think of their foods as foreign at all.
                        1 indigenous: native
                        2 take something by storm: to suddenly become very successful and admired in a particular place
                        3 The failure of the potato crops that caused mass starvation in Ireland occurred from 1845 to 1850.
                        4 the Americas: North,Central, and South American considered together as a whole
                        5 Latin American: of Spanish-speaking American countries      
                        6 harmoniously: in an agreeable way


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