IV: Beet

Sugar and urine and beets and war -- a sweeping story.

IV: Beet
Beets. Photo by Emma-Jane Hobden / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is quartidi, the 4th of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate la betterave, a root that makes dishes blood red.

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The mangelwurzel is a variety of beet sometimes known as a field beet or fodder beet and an ideal projectile for the sport of Mangold hurling. What you do is you make a basket out of willow large enough to stand in, then you stand in it. While doing so, you grip a beet by the stem and leaves and throw it as far as you can without bending your elbow or stepping out of the basket. You get other people to do this as well. Whoever yeets the beet the farthest is the winner. It's a sport. I'm not making this up. It looks fun.

One thing that comes up often in this project is how many foods that seem quintessentially European originated in the Americas (potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts), so it can be fun to imagine what life was like before these existed. And when you think about sugar, you can easily imagine a story that goes: Europeans only had sugar fodder roots like beets and carrots before the Age of Discovery, when sugar cane – and the knowledge of how to harvest it for crystals and molasses – came back on ships and set off a huge craze that made some king or queen very wealthy.

But it's the opposite.