James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

November 28, 2010

Crops of the Americas

Filed under: Uncategorized — James @ 9:38 am

But the Native Americans weren’t without any useful proto-domesticated plants. Tobacco and chocolate are two that come to mind.

Wait…. what? Take a minute and think about that statement. When you think about crops that were a lot more than proto-domesticated long before europeans made it over to the western hemisphere, what should be the first thing that comes to mind?

It’s in the URL of my website! Corn.

Aside from the blatantly obvious one, how about potatoes? Potatoes and corn combined account for a big chunk of all the calories produced around the world today. But maybe crops that actually feed people aren’t sexy enough to come to mind.

So how about chili peppers? Can you picture how different thai and indian cuisine must have been with access to nothing stronger than black pepper?

But these are just some the ones I’d expect everyone to know about. If we open the floor to awesome crops that don’t get as much publicity, how about amaranth? No, not the song by Nightwish. Not the pernicious weed either (although that’s a close relative). I’m talking about grain amaranth.*

Hopefully I’ve made my point. If not I have a whole book full of minor and abandoned crops of the americas, so I could go on all day. And before I’d even have to dig that book out I could go through plenty more everyday and exotic crops most people have probably already heard of (starting with tomatoes and vanilla).

Author’s note: It’s easy to take a single sentence out of context and pick it apart. Hopefully it can also be fun and educational. Source of the original quote.

*Apologies for the dry source material. It was either something like this or one of a number hippie/foodie websites that made me cringe with their unbelievable and contradictory claims about the crop.


  1. Well, Diamond definitely isn’t concerned with the “sexiness” of crops. His focus is on how easy the crops were to domesticate, and how complete a nutritional package they provide (e.g., the net calorie gain from raising them). I don’t remember now why he thought that corn and potatoes, or amaranth, were inferior to middle-eastern grains, but I expect he had a pretty good reason. Perhaps with corn, hybrid vigor was one factor, and also it may have taken much longer to get it domesticated usefully, compared to wheat. Potatoes seem a good crop, but I haven’t read much about large Indian potato-raising operations, for whatever reason. Maybe growing underground is a big drawback.

    Comment by William Nelson — November 29, 2010 @ 8:20 am

  2. Right, and I guess I should have made it more clear I was going after the way the guy at dailykos was summarizing Jared Diamond’s work (being only a handful of crops not very useful for feeding large numbers of people and those only “proto-domesticated”), not Diamond’s own ideas.

    It took a long time for corn to travel from central america into north america, and many of the awesome crops domesticated in south america by the Inca and other cultures were only well adapted to specific and reasonably small climactic regions within the jungles, mountains, and deserts that civilization stretched across.

    Comment by James — November 30, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

  3. […] James of the Giant Corn gives idiot pontificator a well-deserved drubbing. […]

    Pingback by Nibbles: Nagoya, Pomegranate Juice, Fort Collins, Sudan, Americas, Brachiaria, Chile, Nutrition — November 30, 2010 @ 6:01 am

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