“I’ll have a salad.”
The waiter gives me a knowing nod as she jots down my order. A few minutes later, a mesh of tomatoes, apples, and spinach is placed before me, glowing with ripeness and flavor. I snatch a fork and dive in. As I lift the various vegetables and fruits to my mouth, I begin to think about the journey that each ingredient took in order to create this delicious plate.
Before the fifteenth century, no one in the Americas could have enjoyed onions or olives in their salad (even if it was a real dish back then.)
No such plants grew in the local soil. Those ingredients grew on the other side of the world, in Eurasia. However, all of that shortly changed. Olives soon began to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to be planted in foreign ground. New ingredients lined the fields of the early Americas, and salads were made possible. Ultimately, I had the Columbian Exchange to thank for my delectable meal.
The Columbian Exchange was a result of worlds combining. After Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, the eastern side of the globe pined to get their hands on the mysterious land. A flurry of ships from the east began to steer their sails towards the “New World” in hopes to find wealth, fame, and religious freedom. But they didn’t just drop everything behind for the journey. The sailors took with them an array of goods from their home countries, including the necessary ingredients for a killer salad.
It didn’t stop there. Since humans finally had access to resources from around the globe, it seemed nothing was impossible to construct. Communities were formed. Cities were built. Metropolises followed. Technology improved exponentially, and the modern lifestyle that we know evolved. In fact, many of the comforts we enjoy today are a direct result of this exchange. When I think about a song that seems to lift burdens off my shoulders, my warm, enveloping bed that I never want to leave, my mother’s ring, set with diamonds that glitter like dewdrops in the sun, or the most satisfying greek salad, I am reminded that none of them would be possible without this critical historical event. Clearly, some truly beautiful things were made as a result of this union.
However, indescribably awful things were also created. Disease, exploitation, and, eventually, chattel slavery, were brought to the Americas by the Columbian Exchange.
Of course, slavery was not new to the world when it came to the “New World.” But isn’t it tragic that when mass amounts of people came together, one of the first things they created was a system of slavery? That’s what the Columbian Exchange was, after all—simply, a grand display of what occurs when humans come together. It’s just one example of many times humans have created “New Worlds” full of wonderful and terrible things.
Ancient Rome, for instance, was full of intricate, gorgeous structures like the Colosseum that the world had never before seen.
Every time I see a picture of the landmark, I am astounded by how thoughtfully it was created. But who was the Colosseum built by? And what was it used for? Its calculated stones were placed by hands in chains, and its purpose was to appease people’s thirst for violence. The world that the Romans created may look perfect on the outside, but their unity is stained with blood. By analyzing this and any point in history when people gathered together, I can conclude this about human nature: we are capable of overwhelming good and unthinkable evil.
In that case, is it a good thing or a bad thing when people come together? What is the verdict? Do humans create malice, or beauty? After all, much of the life we know wouldn’t exist without the Columbian Exchange. But neither, perhaps, would all the suffering that countless people endured. I suppose it’s a mix. A salad, if you will. But it doesn’t have to be.
Every time I bring a bite of fresh caesar salad to my lips, I am reminded that cautiously minding the ingredients we put into this world is the first step to creating the best meal for everyone. If we expel the foods that harm and replace them with the fruits of patience, kindness, and love, this world will look a little less like salad and a lot more like paradise.