Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


The bread-tree grows in the Philippine islands, and principally in those of Guam and Tinian, as the cocoa-tree grows in the Indies. These two trees, alone, if they could be multiplied in our climate, would furnish food and drink sufficient for all mankind.

The bread-tree is taller and more bulky than our common apple-trees; its leaves are black, its fruit is yellow, and equal in dimensions to the largest apple. The rind is hard; and the cuticle is a sort of soft, white paste, which has the taste of the best French rolls; but it must be eaten fresh, as it keeps only twenty-four hours, after which it becomes dry, sour and disagreeable; but, as a compensation, the trees are loaded with them eight months of the year. The natives of the islands have no other food; they are all tall, stout, well made, sufficiently fleshy, and in the vigorous health which is necessarily produced by the use of one wholesome aliment alone: and it is to negroes that nature has made this present.

Corn is assuredly not the food of the greater part of the world. Maize and cassava are the food of all America. We have whole provinces in which the peasants eat none but chestnut bread, which is more nourishing and of better flavor than the rye or barley bread on which so many feed, and is much better than the rations given to the soldiers. Bread is unknown in all southern Africa. The immense Indian Archipelago, Siam, Laos, Pegu, Cochin-China, Tonquin, part of China, the Malabar and Coromandel coasts, and the banks of the Ganges, produce rice, which is easier of cultivation, and for which wheat is neglected. Corn is absolutely unknown for the space of five hundred leagues on the coast of the Icy Sea.

The missionaries have sometimes been in great tribulation, in countries where neither bread nor wine is to be found. The inhabitants told them by interpreters: “You would baptize us with a few drops of water, in a burning climate, where we are obliged to plunge every day into the rivers; you would confess us, yet you understand not our language; you would have us communicate, yet you want the two necessary ingredients, bread and wine. It is therefore evident that your universal religion cannot have been made for us.” The missionaries replied, very justly, that good will is the one thing needful; that they should be plunged into the water without any scruple; that bread and wine should be brought from Goa; and that, as for the language, the missionaries would learn it in a few years.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25