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PBS to Air History Through Gastronomic Lens

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What We Eat series hosted by Burt Wolf starts this weekend:

    The True Story of Why We Put Sugar in Our Coffee and Ketchup on Our Fries
    A THIRTEEN-PART SERIES PRESENTED BY CONAGRA FOODS IS SCHEDULED TO BEGIN AIRING IN OCTOBER 2002 ON PUBLIC TELEVISION NEW YORK, May 2002 – How has food changed the course of history? Did Christopher Columbus sow the seeds of American capitalism by planting the first sugar cane in the New World? Were the sugar plantations the prototype of today’s capitalist corporation?

    Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the last voyage of Columbus, “What We Eat” explores how the Old and the New Worlds were linked through the exchange of plants and animals during Columbus’ voyages from 1492 through 1502. Religion and politics were essential to the development of nations, but so were potatoes, corn, and cattle. The thirteen half-hour programs will begin airing in October 2002 with funding provided by ConAgra Foods. National distributor of the series is American Public Television.

    Food and travel writer, Burt Wolf, produced the series and serves as host. The programs were shot on location in the United States, Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean. The research for the programs was compiled and edited by leading scholars on The Columbian Exchange.

    “Columbus introduced two worlds and began an interchange of plants and animals that influenced the way everyone ate and altered almost everything on our planet. This series looks at how these foods continue to impact our lives in ways we never imagined,” stated Mr. Wolf.

    The ancestor of tomato ketchup was a Chinese soybean sauce that was brought from Southeast Asia to England. British colonists brought it to America where the original ingredient was replaced by tomatoes.

    During the mid 1800’s, the tomato was considered a curative for almost every major illness.

    When the Spanish first arrived in Mexico the local Maya were using cacao beans, the source of chocolate, as a form of currency. In the Americas, money really did grow on trees!

    Cane sugar originated in India, traveled to the Middle East and then to medieval Europe as a medicine and a rare spice. In the 18th and 19th centuries, sugar influenced almost every aspect of British government policy from wages to wars in much the same way that oil does today.

    On two occasions the potato changed the course of world history. First it supplied the caloric energy for the Incan Empire of South America and the Spanish colonists who conquered it. The second time was when it was the staple that fed the expanding populations of northern Europe, which allowed a handful of European nations to dominate the world.

    Other shows in the series include Corn, Chili Peppers, Coffee, Wine, Livestock, and Old World Foods in the New World.

    Burt Wolf is the host and author of nine internationally syndicated television series that deal with cultural history, travel and gastronomy. He was the first recipient of the James Beard Foundation Award for “Best Television Food Journalism,” and has been nominated for two CableAce Awards and a national Emmy in connection with cultural history. His reports are videotaped entirely on location throughout the world.

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