King of the Carbs

When conquistadors subjugated Peru in 1534, the Inca civilization was only their first victim. Spain too would eventually pay a heavy price. The Spaniards discovered a veritable mountain of silver at Potosí, but it was only thanks to the potato — domesticated in Peru's uplands some 8,000 years earlier — that Spanish slave drivers could feed the army of conscripted miners they deployed to dig up the silver. As John Reader recounts in Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History, the flood of bullion proved more than the Old World could absorb. The unintended result: inflation that shredded Europe's social fabric,...

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