The Global Legacy of Jean Nicot de Villemain

Hachis parmentier is a culinary delight; deli sandwiches are mouthwatering; nicotiana tabacum is prized  worldwide; All three commodities derive their name from the individuals who made them known to the world: Hachis parmentier from Frenchman Antoine-Augustin Parmentier; the sandwich is  named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich; finally nicotine is coined after Jean Nicot de Villemain

But the buck stops here. This naming business is the only thing that nicotine has in common with the other two products because hachis parmentier and sandwiches are nutritious and  will not kill you, but nicotine will destroy you.

So what was Jean Nicot thinking when he took the tobacco plant from Brazil and  introduced it  into France? this was a gift offered to King Henry II in the form of  seeds; at the time Jean Nicot was  the French ambassador to Portugal. In those days (1560), diplomats wore many hats: they were navigators, traders and explorers;  in addition to signing treaties and annexing lands.they introduced foreign specimens to their countries in the form of plants, animals (how do you think our zoos were born? ) and human beings (but they preferred to call them slaves or captives).  In  return, Africa and New world countries were given diseases or new governors.

Global thinking comes with the territory of the Internet  (nothing new), so when we, in the developed world  want something such as lucrative cash crops, we give no thought to  the repercussions on other countries, nor on the poor and disadvantaged workers within our own industrialized nations; the same can be said of the European nobility and aristocracy in the 17th century who enjoyed tobacco, ( as well as  tea, coffee and chocolate) and used it for every little ailment it  could fancy: – from ointment for sores to snuffing powder for headaches; the truth of the matter is in all ages, one group has selfishly reaped sensory or material benefits from the sweat of others (slaves, indentured servants, farmers, sharecroppers or plant workers). This pattern repeats itself over and over from 1560  all the way to 2013.

 

So think about it: nothing good  has come out nicotiana tabacum; today it is still associated with exploitation of cheap labor, cash crop plantations (which is fertile land that should really be used for food crops); moreover plenty of diseases and poverty are associated with this crop. Right here in the United States, African American tobacco farmers have died or wasted away because of tobacco cultivation: journalist Rebecca Skloot describes their unhealthy and impoverished  lives in the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Yet it is a  $ 27 billion industry (fujiub.com);  

Right from the start, Nicotiana Tabacum was a part of every pre-colonial and colonial enterprise and today it prides itself as being the mark of the 21st century. Jean Nicot de Villemain really earned the last part of his name:  in French "vile main" translates as  "foul hand" in English. How ironic is that? Nicot joins the ranks of History makers along with Christopher Columbus who  was equally attracted to those fragrant  tobacco leaves offered innocently by the natives (1492); and the rest is history…

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