Carlos Sayadyan - Famine / wikimedia commons - flickr

We like to compare ourselves to Europe and the rest of the world  a lot. Our economists do it, educators do it, health professionals do it even some politicians do it. In nearly every subject imaginable.

Those that like to extort what they call American exceptionalism and those that like to show how out of touch and behind we actually are.

Where here is one subject where most of the world has beat us from the time people originally settled here.

Famines.

Yep…and they have had a bunch of them. Sometimes killing a million or more people from starvation and/or disease and plagues. We think of these as something that happens only in third world underdeveloped countries. Not so.

The closest we have come to the kind of famines that the rest of the world endured was Year Without a Summer where there were massive crop failures in the eastern part of the country.   Even then farmers could pack up and leave and move west, which many did.

Those even in Europe did not always have that option and actually could not except to immigrate here. This was not an easy task and for most far to expensive.  A good number of these famines were responsible for the immigration to this country. Like the Great Irish Famine in which up to 1,500,000 people immigrated

While the famine was responsible for a significant increase in emigration from Ireland, of anywhere from 45% to nearly 85% depending on the year and the county, it was not the sole cause. Nor was it even the era when mass emigration from Ireland commenced. That can be traced to the middle of the 18th century, when some 250,000 people left Ireland to settle in the New World alone, over a period of some 50 years. From the defeat of Napoleon to the beginning of the famine, a period of 30 years, “at least 1,000,000 and possibly 1,500,000 emigrated”.[89] However, during the worst of the famine, emigration reached somewhere around 250,000 in one year alone, with far more emigrants leaving from western Ireland than any other part.[90]

A large number of which immigrated to this country.

The classic image of an Irish immigrant is led to a certain extent by racist and anti-Catholic stereotypes. In modern times, in the United States, the Irish are largely perceived as hard workers. Most notably they are associated with the positions of police officer, firefighter, Roman Catholic Church leaders and politicians in the larger Eastern Seaboard metropolitan areas.Irish Americans number over 35 million, making them the second largest reported ethnic group in the country, after German Americans. Historically, large Irish American communities have been found in Philadelphia; Chicago; Boston; New York City; Detroit; New England; Baltimore; Pittsburgh; St. Paul, Minnesota; Buffalo; Broome County; Los Angeles; and the San Francisco Bay Area. Many cities across the country have annual St Patrick’s Day parades;The nation’s largest is in New York Cityone of the world’s largest parades. The parade in Boston is closely associated with Evacuation Day, when the British left Boston in 1776 during the American War of Independence. Not to be forgotten are the 56% of the people who claim Irish ancestry who are Protestant and populate large areas along the Appalachian Mountains and the southeastern United States, especially in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas and Virginia

Before the Great Hunger (“Irish Potato Famine“), in which over a million died and more emigrated,[51] there had been the Penal Laws which had already resulted in significant emigration from Ireland.[citation needed]

According to the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, in 1790 there were 400,000 Americans of Irish birth or ancestry out of a total white population of 3,100,000. Half of these Irish Americans were descended from Ulster people, and half were descended from the people of Connaught, Leinster and Munster.

According to U.S. Census figures from 2000, 41,000,000 Americans claim to be wholly or partly of Irish ancestry, a group that represents more than one in five white Americans.

Not only immigration but social, political and economic upheaval can be traced to famines. Most notably the French and Russian revolutions.

A history of not having enough to eat also influences the way one eats.  Unlike here where we are used to putting whatever we can grab into our mouths and fast as possible,  in Europe – and especially in France – meals are social occasions where one takes time to savor each part of each course. And when you don’t have much of any one item, you have as many items as you can. Hence the tradition of having multi course meals.  Each served separately and prepared separately – since refrigeration came much, much later and each item had to be fresh.

These social occasions were where you talked over your day and what not.

Food wise this country has never really had it as bad as a lot of the rest of the world. Even during the depression of the 1930s, we did not ever have a situation where 100s of thousands of people died of starvation.

At least not yet………………