Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 8, 2018

Today’s Deficient Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

While in the period after Columbus’s voyage, advances in agriculture, plant-breeding, and crop exchange between the New and Old Worlds in some way improved food supply, for those newly dependent upon a single staple crop the consequence could be one of the classic deficiency diseases: scurvy, beriberi or kwashiorkor (from a Ghanaian word meaning disease suffered by a child displayed from the breast). Those heavily reliant on maize in Mesoamerica and later, after it was brought back by the conquistadores, in the Mediterranean, frequently fell victim to pellagra, caused by niacin deficiency and characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and death. Another product of vitamin B (thiamine) deficiency is beriberi, associated with Asian rice cultures.

The Third World, however, has had no monopoly on dearth and deficiency diseases. The subjugation of Ireland by the English, complete around 1700, left an impoverished native peasantry ‘living in Filth and Nastiness upon Butter-milk and Potatoes, without a Shoe or stocking to their Feet,’ as Jonathan Swift observed. Peasants survived through cultivating the potato, a New World import and another instance of how the Old World banked upon gains from the New. A wonderful source of nutrition, rich in vitamins B1, B2, and C as well as a host of essential minerals, potatoes kept the poor alive and well-nourished, but when in 1727 the oat crop failed, the poor ate their winter potatoes early and then starved. The subsequent famine led Swift to make his ironic ‘modest proposal’ as to how to handle the island’s surplus population better in future:

a young healthy Child, well nursed is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome Food; whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boiled; and, I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a Fricassee, or Ragout… I grant this Food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords

With Ireland’s population zooming, disaster was always a risk. From a base of two million potato-eating peasants in 1700, the nation multiplied to five million by 1800 and to close to nine million by 1845. The potato island had become one of the world’s most densely populated places. When the oat and potato crops failed, starving peasants became prey to various disorders, notably typhus, predictably called ‘Irish fever’ by the landlords. During the Great Famine of 1845-7, typhus worked its way through the island; scurvy and dysentery also returned. Starving children aged so that they looked like old men. Around a million people may have died in the famine and in the next decades millions more emigrated. Only a small percentage of deaths were due directly to starvation; the overwhelming majority occurred from hunger-related disease: typhus, relapsing fevers and dysentery. 

Culled from: The Greatest Benefit to Mankind


Morbid Sightseeing: Spallanzani Museum

The Spallanzani Museum (Reggio Emilia, Italy)

Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799) was a Catholic priest, biologist and physiologist (I guess back then those three things went together?) who, according to Wikipedia, “made important contributions to the experimental study of bodily functions, animal reproduction, and animal echolocation.”  During his lifetime he amassed a large collection of specimens which, upon his death, ended up in a gallery at the Palazzo dei Musei in the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  It’s generally just an old-style zoology collection, but there are quite a few curiosities as well, like two-headed snakes in jars and stuffed cows with legs coming out of their shoulders and that sort of thing. But of particular morbid interest is THIS:

Can that really be real??? It’s like they’re staring right into my cold black heart!

The above photo and others of the exhibit can be viewed at Morbid Anatomy.

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