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British holidaymakers taking food abroad doing the same as the Spanish 500 years ago

Spanish tourist operators have grown used to British holidaymakers arriving in their country carrying edible home comforts such as teabags and marmite when they travel abroad and they are ever patient when their British guests ask for directions to familiar fast food outlets. That Spanish patience and understanding may be partly explained by new research from the University of Warwick that suggests that the Spanish were doing the same thing 500 years ago. 

Dr Rebecca Earle from the School of Comparative American Studies has discovered Spanish settlers trying to colonise Latin America in the 1500s believed eating the same food as Native Americans would make them turn into Indians.  

Dr Earle says: “During the early modern era diet was believed to play a central part not only in maintaining good health, but also in determining individual character. For this reason colonisers in 16th and17th century Spanish America were consistently concerned about their ability to access European foodstuffs. The right foods were held to protect Europeans and their offspring from the challenges posed by the new world and its environment.” 

The Spanish also were also convinced that European food protected them from losing their facial hair. Dr Earle said:  “The Spanish noticed that Amerinindian men often lacked beards, which they attributed to the hot, moist climate of the new world. Spanish men were very proud of their own facial hair and. believed the only way to make sure they did not lose their beards in this new climate was to eat Spanish food.” 

Amerindian foods such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and maize were thought by the Spanish to be unnourishing.  (They did however like chocolate.) Dr Earle said: “The colonists believed food was vital to maintaining the distance between Spaniards and Indians.  They believed that without access to European food Spaniards would sooner or later turn into Indians.” 

Dr Earle has studied a wide range of sources, such as the work of Spanish priest and scholar Father Gregorio Garcia who wrote 'The Origin of the Indians of the New World' in 1607. 

For more details contact:

Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Communications Officer, University of Warwick,, 02476 150483, 07824 540863