According my potted History of the World, after several attempts over a few thousand years (Greeks, Romans, etc), Europe conquered the world in about 1500. After that time, much of the world fell under Portuguese, Spanish, British, Dutch, or French control. And it remained under European control for the next five centuries until World Wars 1 and 2. The world wars were really European civil wars fought between the European colonial powers and the European non-colonial powers (Germany, Austria, maybe Italy). After the end of WW2, most of the European colonies gained independence from their European colonial powers, but remained within the sphere of influence of the Western world – primarily under the leadership of the USA, which was one of the first colonies to gain independence.
The European colonisation of the world was a consequence of growing trade between Europe and the rest of the world. Many new products began to appear in Europe. Sugar, coffee, cocoa, tea, tobacco, hemp, cotton, bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, and so on. Europeans established trading stations in many countries, and then needed fortified harbours and fleets to protect merchandise being transported back to Europe. European trade with its colonies was mostly an exchange of raw materials (e.g. sugar, tobacco, coffee, cotton) for manufactured products (tools, weapons, clothes).
I’ve been looking this morning to see where many of the food products originated. Sugarcane is indigenous to tropical South and Southeast Asia. The first coffee plant was found in the mountains of Yemen. The tea plant is an evergreen of the Camellia family that is native to China, Tibet and northern India. The cacao tree is native to the Americas. It originated in Central America and parts of Mexico. Tobacco has long been used in the Americas, with some cultivation sites in Mexico dating back to 1400–1000 BC. Coca is native to western South America. Hemp is possibly one of the earliest plants to be cultivated. The Chinese used hemp to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and an early form of paper. Farmers in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea first domesticated bananas. The potato was first domesticated in the region of modern-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia. Rice originates from the Pearl River valley region of Ancient China. The tomato is native to western South America and Central America. Pineapple is indigenous to South America and is said to originate from the area between southern Brazil and Paraguay. Mangoes are native to South Asia. The domestic carrot has a single origin in Central Asia. Pepper is native to South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Add that chicken originates in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and South Asia. All of the commercial domestic turkey varieties today descend from the domestic turkey raised in central Mexico that was subsequently imported into Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century.
From an European perspective, all these plants (except turkey and chicken, of course!) are imports from somewhere else in the world. They’ve all arrived in the past 500 years from somewhere or other. And perhaps that’s why there has been resistance to some of them: they’re immigrants. And perhaps that’s why there’s always been strong resistance to tobacco, hemp, opium, coca, sugar, chocolate (cacao). They’re historically not part of the original culture. Europeans didn’t smoke anything prior to about 1500. So why start now?
Antismoking may be a form of conservatism. Antismokers – and drug warriors of every kind – are always trying to get these various genies back into their bottles. It’s a hopeless task, of course.
I’m always rather surprised that tea and coffee haven’t attracted the attentions of the drug warriors. They’re both psychotropic drugs, after all. And since I drink tea all day, I could easily be described as a tea addict. So why isn’t treated just like the tobacco that I smoke while I drink my tea? Why hasn’t it got health warnings all over it? Is it really that English a custom, to drink tea? Isn’t it more of a fad of recent centuries?
Maybe the modern Western hysteria about diet is the result of having a rapidly growing number of foods? In the past, you ate oatmeal or barley every day. That’s all there was to eat. Now there are any number of foods to choose between. And nobody knows what to eat any more, and in what quantity to eat them.
The degree of rejection of foods is perhaps a function of their relative novelty. What’s called “junk food” seems to refer to either newly-imported foods – Indian, Chinese, Italian – or to fast foods that are quickly cooked or bought over a counter. Again, this is a form of conservatism. During my childhood in England, there weren’t any Indian or Chinese restaurants, nor any Italian pizzerias. Why start eating it now? What was wrong with old-fashioned roast mutton, with boiled turnip and cabbage? And whatever happened to plum pudding and pigeon pie?
We also live in different houses these days. In my childhood, houses had chimneys and were heated with open coal or wood fires. My current modern flat has gas central heating and double glazing, both more or less unheard of a century ago.
In my childhood, I got around on foot, on bicycle, or on buses and trains. Now I have my own car, and never use anything else. And it’s a Japanese car. And cars are demonised almost as much as tobacco or sugar.
Globalisation has been going on for the past 500 years. Tobacco has been being globalised for 500 years, along with tea and coffee and more or less everything else. Globalisation started with Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea. He probably brought back some curry powder, and the world has never been the same since.