THE MAYA GIFT: WHAT WE EAT ~Doc Lawrence Somewhere between 5,000 BC and 7,000 BC, the ancient Maya cultivated cotton, corn, chili peppers, chocolate, vanilla, pineapple, beans and heaven knows what else. According to Archeaoengineer James O'Kon in his fascinating new book, How The Maya Changed The World, these were the best agronomists ever. "Their cultivars nourished their people and enabled rapid growth into a sophisticated society of profound thinkers." After European contact, the inventive products of Maya agronomy were disseminated around the world. "The integration of these cultivars into the world's cultures changed the course of world history." O'Kon is not only an accomplished scientist and explorer, he's a very good storyteller. The book is loaded with anecdotes and folklore with one recurring question: what would we be enjoying for dinner tonight without these Maya contributions? No chocolate? No chilly peppers? No pineapple? Polyester napkins? Heaven forbid. O'Kon makes the convincing case based on 50 visits to Maya sites and extensive research that the reach of Maya cultivars changed the world and now feed and clothe the majority of the planet's population. For 300 pages, the book assumes that these findings are beyond question and I've yet to find any credible source contradicting the author. I confess that I know and admire O'Kon. I've used him as my most reliable source for food and beverage articles. He resides in Atlanta and is a trove of highly useful, esoteric information. When writing about vanilla, no better authority could be found. Now, when I put on a cotton shirt, eat chocolate cake, enjoy good pepper sauce (practically all chilli peppers), or divide a pineapple for breakfast fruit, I silently express gratitude to the Maya. The fate of the Maya is sad. O'Kon says they outstripped the land and eschewed sustainable agriculture, sealing their doom. Are you listening Washington? Available at amazon.com and bookstores everywhere.