A More Varied Diet Means a Healthier Population
We can dimly make out what seems to have been an agricultural revolution in al-Andalus during this period [circa 1000 C.E.]. An increase in productivity was made possible by more intense exploitation of the land. Irrigation, in particular, enlarged the growing season of the year—you can raise four vegetable crops a year on well-tended irrigated land in Mediterranean Spain—and eased dependence on unpredictables such as the weather. Higher and more stable incomes were the result, and with greater prosperity came greater confidence….
More varied crops did more than just diversify gastronomy. (Think of the bleakness of a world without lemons or spinach.) A better, more varied diet means a healthier population. Hard wheat, the main constituent of pasta, grows in drier conditions than soft (bread) wheat and stores for a prodigiously long time because of the low water content of the grain. Al-Razi (d. 955) tells us that around Toledo it would keep in store without decay for upwards of sixty years; it was transmitted in inheritance from father to son like other property. Crops such as this helped to stave off the threat of famine. Prosperity meant earlier marriage, larger families, diversification, opportunity, leisure.