We Are What We Eat: Food and American Identity at the National Archives

national archives
Courtesy of the National Archives

A Seedy Business
Before the government gave farms subsidies, it gave them seeds. Maps, seed packets and watercolor paintings detail the discovery and dissemination of foods that Americans went around the world to procure in the early days of the nation; curator Alice Kamps calls this "the era of the plant explorers," when people like Jefferson hunted high and low for sustainable crops. (He even braved the threat of a death sentence in Italy by smuggling rice out of Piedmont.) The plants that proved to be worth the trip were those like wilt-resistant spinach that could be bred in different climates or withstand drought. And more success on the farm meant a greater diversity of dishes on the table.

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