Food of the People | Food as People
The Lowly Esculent
In its homeland of the Andes of Peru and Bolivia, the potato was revered. It was one of the most important food crops for Nations living in its region, and Andean farmers to this day may grow
hundreds of varieties within one field. When the potato arrived in Europe however, it was met with skepticism and disgust.
The potato was first accepted by the Irish. Exploited by England, impoverished, and overpopulated, the potato provided the Irish with a rich source of calories that was easy to grow and easy to store. It would eventually dominate their diet, eaten slightly under cooked with just a dip in a bowl of salt.
Meanwhile, the first publication of the Encylopedia Brittanica labeled the potato as “the most de-moralising esculent”. Laced with anti-Irish sentiment, this statement is unfair in many ways. The potato provides some of the richest caloric and nutritional yields per acre cultivated. It’s easy to cook and versatile in the kitchen (at least, when its maker can afford more than just salt). During the Industrial Revolution, it would provide a nourishing food source for the working class.
The potato is one of the most historically significant vegetables and today is the most important non-grain food crop in the world. In 2008, John Reader published his book The Potato: A History of the Most Propitious Esculent. Propitious indeed, yet the potato remains a humble and commonplace food. It is the lowly esculent, unattractive, perhaps even homely, affordable, yet cherished by all.
It is stories like this that deserve to be heard. Our food has a rich history that is too easy to take for granted. Its production today is sodden with cruelty and exploitation. I began this illustration series to bring to light some of the stories, and to share with my viewers the darker side of our food industry, but in a way that I hope is digestible and impactful.