You say potato, I say…

From 1000 to 1900 the world’s population grew from 300 million to 1.6 billion. Urbanization more than quadrupled.

The culprit? According to a new paper by Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian: the potato.

…Old World regions that were suitable for potato cultivation experienced disproportionately faster population and urbanization growth after the introduction of potatoes.

…our baseline estimates suggest that the potato accounts for 12% of the increase in population, 22% of the increase in population growth, 47% of the increase in urbanization, and 50% of the increase in urbanization growth.

The more traditional view credits modern medicine and public sanitation in the late 19th century for the population boom. Nunn and Qian argue the population boom came much earlier. As the potato spread from the NewWorld to the Old World, it carried a huge increase in calories and nutrients.

Something I didn’t know:

Humans can subsist healthily on a diet of potatoes, supplemented with only milk or butter, which contain the two vitamins not provided for by potatoes, vitamins A and D. …This, in fact, was the typical Irish diet, which although monotonous, was able to provide sufficient amounts of all vitamins and nutrients.

Seems my grandmother had it right all along…

2 thoughts on “You say potato, I say…

  1. There is a downside to relying on potatoes. In "Against the Grain" by Richard Manning, he notes (I'm sure it's been noted by others) that since potatoes reproduce asexually, once infected the infection can spread rapidly with decimating results…just ask the Irish.

  2. Potato is a member of the solanacea family of plants – (also tomatoes, peppers, eggplant). This is the same family as nightshade – and some folk are convinced that this has detrimental effects on health. That said – I am rather fond of a perfect summer tomato.