The Lasting Effects of the Columbian Exchange During the Age of Discovery

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The Lasting Effects of the Columbian Exchange During the Age of Discovery

It should no longer come as any great surprise that Columbus was not the first to discover the Americas--Carthaginians, Vikings, and even St. Brendan may have set foot on the Western Hemisphere long before Columbus crossed the Atlantic. But none of these incidental contacts made the impact that Columbus did. Columbus and company were bound to bring more than the benefits of Christianity and double entry bookkeeping to America. His voyages started the Columbian Exchange, a hemispherical swap of peoples, plants, animals and diseases that transformed not only the world he had discovered but also the one he had left.

The Old and New Worlds had been separated
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He enormously increased the number of kinds of foods and quantities of food by both plant and animal sources. New food crops have enabled people to live in places where they previously had only slim means of feeding themselves. Each new cargo brought new changes to the European diet, helping to improve eating and strengthening national identities with cultural foods. Some of the exotic new crops had humble beginnings; before the tomato made its way into European diets, it was a weed in the Aztec maize fields. The potatoes which hung on to Spanish ships wasn't welcomed at first either; Europeans found it unappetizing. But packing more calories per acre than any European grain, the potato eventually became the dominant food of northern Europe's working class.

A few of the other plants that took root in the European palate was the cacao bean for chocolate, lima beans, corn, peanuts, pumpkins, squash, cashews, and pineapples. Sunflowers, petunias, marigolds and poinsettias also made their way to Europe. Several other plants of importance include quinine, tobacco, and sugar cane. Quinine is a malaria fighting plant found in the Peruvian Andes. Sugar cane is especially important because of its impact on slavery. While originally a European plant, it thrived in tropical American forests. Scholars estimate that each ton of sugar cost the life on one worker in the New World. As Indians perished, African slaves
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