Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. Specifically, it will answer this question: “What role did codfish have in the discovery of America?” Cod and America go hand in hand, and after reading this book, it is easy to see why. Cod were the sustenance of life for many of the worlds people, from the Basques to the Norsemen, and following the cod led these earliest explorers to the shores of North America.
While most people think it was Christopher Columbus who first discovered North America, but that is not really the truth. Records show that Norse Vikings, like Leif Eiriksson, found the continent of North America as early as the tenth century, calling it first “Woodland” and then “Vineland” as they moved down the coast. Kurlansky writes, “Woodland could have been Newfoundland, Nova Scotia or Maine, all three of which are wooded. But in Vineland they found wild grapes, which no one else has discovered in any of these places” (Kurlansky 20). They found the shores of North America because they were ultimately looking for cod, rather than new places to settle, and because they had learned to preserve cod, so they could take it with them on long sea voyages.
Kurlansky continues the Vikings had discovered how to “preserve codfish by hanging it in the frosty winter air until it lost four-fifths of its weight and became a durable woodlike plank” (Kurlansky 21). The Basques also fished in the North Atlantic fisheries, and learned how to salt cod, another way to keep it for long periods of time. Salt cod became a staple on fishing ships, and the discovery of the great cod fisheries in the North Atlantic not only helped ultimately feed the world, but they helped feed explorers searching the globe for wealth, spices, and even a passage around the world.
Thus, the codfish fed the world, but also fostered exploration and discovery. Many people felt Columbus had only discovered what earlier people already knew was there. Columbus was not looking for cod; he was looking for spices and the Orient. However, Kurlanskys history of the codfish clearly shows that the fish led to the early discovery of North America,.