Potatoes Saved the World From Constant War Because They Are That Delicious

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Potatoes are far more important to world peace than we give them credit for. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Without the potato, you might not even be here today. A new study investigated just how important this tasty root vegetable is, and concluded that it was responsible for centuries of relative peace in Europe, preventing countless wars and perhaps even ensuring the preservation of the family tree which eventually led to you.

The introduction of the potato to Europe in the 16th century changed agriculture, allowing farmers to grow more crops on less land. In turn, this allowed communities to feed themselves on smaller amounts of land. As a result the price of land dropped. As land lost its monetary value, conflicts over land also became less frequent. According to a new study on the topic, now published online in The National Bureau of Economic Research, conflict decreased by 15 percent in areas that could more easily grow potatoes.

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“Once potatoes were imported to the old world starting in the late 17th century, they seem to have dampened conflicts localized in regions that were relatively more suitable for potato cultivation and growth,” lead researcher Murat Iyigun, a professor of economics at the University of Colorado Boulder who focuses on economics of the family told Newsweek. “This effect was pretty long-lasting, spanning nearly two centuries."

Decreased land prices were not the only positive economic trend linked to the potato. The vegetable also increased the amount of money farmers were able to earn, as they were more reliable than other crops. This had a trickle-down effect in the form of taxes and led to wealthier, and therefore more stable, governments. Well-fed wealthy countries are less likely to go to war than starving, poor countries.

The paper also pointed out that potatoes improved the overall nutrition of populations in winter and periods of drought, which eased much of the pressure of supporting growing communities. “It is not a stretch to deduce that this [the potato] most likely saved lives and further casualties,” said Iyigun.

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Although the potato is commonly associated with European cuisine, the vegetable actually originated in South America, in what is now Peru, Smithsonian reported. The potato was brought over to Europe in the 16th century, and from there spread wildly in popularity.

Iyigun told Newsweek that although it’s important not to place too much emphasis on what these findings could mean today, the potato's impact in history may still have some relevance. “Stabilizing and improving agricultural output in the most underdeveloped parts of the contemporary world may be a necessary first step for economic growth,” said Iyigun.