Beyond being well-known foods, what do Swiss chocolate and Brazilian coffee beans have in common? How about Spanish peanuts and California grapes?
None of these foods originated in the regions with which they are most associated. Instead, these foods are all part of “the Grand Exchange” that occurred when Spanish and other European explorers reached the continents of North and South America — a trade of “culinary curiosities” that benefited both the New World and the Old!
When Christopher Columbus “discovered” America in 1492, the great explorer brought with him various grains, fruit trees, and livestock that included sheep and pigs. And when he returned to Spain, he took back such new-found delicacies as sweet potatoes, peanuts and chocolate. Over the next 100 years an incredible and invaluable exchange of food and technology occurred, producing several new industries and bolstering a few sagging economies. During the late 1800s, where would the cowboys of the American Wild West have been had Spanish ships not brought over that four-legged mainstay of Victorian transportation, the horse? And while riding tall in the saddle, what would these “cowpokes” have been herding had European settlers not introduced cattle to North America?
But let’s focus on food. We’d hardly be able to call the North American plains “the breadbasket of the world” if wheat, barley and oats hadn’t been brought across the sea from the Middle East. Nor would Louisiana have its signature rice, a grain originating in China, had it not been introduced into the New World. And Columbia wouldn’t be famous for its coffee beans if the commodity hadn’t sailed the Atlantic with a boatload of European insomniacs.
Of course, the gastronomic gifts flowed both directions in the Grand Exchange: potatoes from Peru eventually became an important part of European diets; and where would all those fabulous Old World chocolatiers be without the decadent cocoa beans that originated in South America? Ships bound to the Western World from Europe brought bananas, grapes, peaches, pears, olives, turnips, sugarcane, and … chickens (Sorry, Colonel Sanders!); but in return, these ships carried back the bounty of the Americas, beans, corn, peanuts, pineapples, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, vanilla, and … turkeys! (Apparently all’s fowl in love and trade.)
Just think, if a ship departed Europe with a cargo of wheat, olives and onions, and it collided with a vessel transporting tomatoes and peppers from South America, you’d have all the ingredients for a really good pizza. A feeble attempt at humor, we agree, but our point here is that the benefits of the Grand Exchange that took place during the 16th century were far greater than the sum of the various parts (or foods). The benefits were a cultural exchange of customs and ideas, and an introduction of new taste sensations previously a world apart.
There’s another “grand exchange” that takes place in the spirit realm, when a person becomes a member of the family of God. And like its cultural counterpart, it encompasses a “trade” that’s extremely beneficial: our Heavenly Father gives every new believer “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (Isaiah 61:3 King James)
That’s quite a trade! It means that God turns our biggest messes into beautiful messages; our greatest tests become our greatest testimonies; situations and circumstances that should have made us bitter end up making us better — or more like Him! Indeed, our Heavenly Father is an expert at turning things around. In fact, He can turn every curse into a blessing! (Deuteronomy 23:5)
We see this in the life of the Biblical hero Joseph. He was wrongly imprisoned (among other things), but his imprisonment eventually led to his vindication, as well as his being installed as the second highest authority in the land of Ancient Egypt. Joseph explains how God made a grand exchange on his behalf: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20 NLT)
When you feel like you’re at the end of your rope; when you’re tired, frustrated, and you just don’t get it; remember that God knows what you’re going through, and He’ll trade your weakness for His strength! “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses…. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (1 Corinthians 12:10 NLT) If you’re going through a tough time, if your life seems a bit messy at present, stop worrying and hand over your problems to the Lord. If you’ll trust Him to work on your behalf, He’ll turn things around for you! He’ll trade you beauty for the ashes of your mistakes, as well as any mistreatment you’ve suffered.
“And we know God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him….” (Romans 8:28 NLT) So, what are you waiting for? Start trading your problems for God’s blessings!