Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Holy Shit, Carrots!


That's right, carrots. Didn't think they were too interesting, did you? As it turns out, they kind of are.

First of all, I should tell you that your vision of the standard, archetypal, original carrot is wholly inaccurate. Because you're thinking of an orange carrot, and orange carrots have only been around since the 17th Century, when they were developed as a political statement.

You read that right. They didn't have TV back then, so when they wanted to wow someone with propaganda, they had to pull out all the stops and start screwing with genetics. In this case, horticulturalists loyal to William of Orange, who had led the Dutch in kicking off a successful but eighty freaking year long war for independence.
William of Orange
Peace whenever we get around to it!
In celebration of their good friend Billy Orange, Dutch farmers tampered with carrot breeding until they managed to make a strain of orange carrots. Then they kept at it like they were on a mission from God, apparently. Nowadays non-orange carrots are considered such a strange novelty that people eye them suspiciously more often than they eat them (though that could be because they don't like vegetables).

Years later, carrots would be partially responsible for the Royal Air Force's victory in the Battle of Britain during World War II. I'm not even joking. Don't give me that look.
Skeptical Baby
It makes you look like this

See, the British had finally perfected radar and started using it as an early warning system for bombing raids. They'd send their pilots out to intercept bombers earlier than should have been possible, and the pilots were able to zero in on German planes fairly easily despite it being really goddamn dark out. It was enough to make a Nazi suspicious.

So, the British government created an urban legend. They released false information saying that they had discovered extraordinary benefits that a diet rich in carrots would provide to your eyes, and specifically to your night vision. They claimed, outrageously, that carrots could make you see in the dark!
RAF Lookout
It wasn't that big of a stretch - carrots have vitamin A, which helps to maintain (but not improve) eyesight. It was just big enough to cover the truth while fooling the Germans. And the British. And the Americans. In fact, it continues fooling everyone today.

Not bad for a vegetable, right? Carrots became orange for strictly political purposes several hundred years ago, and they remain orange to this day. Around fifty years ago, they were said to improve night vision - a rumor started for strictly military purposes which remains common knowledge today.

A rumor which may have helped the Allies win World War II.
Orange Carrots
You're welcome.

Holy shit.

1 comment:

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