Many years ago I read Tim Blanning’s The Pursuit of Glory: The Five Revolutions that Made Modern Europe: 1648-1815. Some portion of it was dedicated was the attempt of scientifically oriented rulers to encourage the cultivation of potatoes amongst their subjects. Today Russia is huge on potatoes, but during the reign of Catherine the Great, this was not the case. Blanning outlines the resistance of the superstitious and backward Russian peasant in particular to the new wisdom of the agronomists. Truth be told, these illiterate peasants really didn’t give reasons for potato aversion. They simply pointed out that planting potatoes was not “how it was done.”
This Russian skepticism was common among European peasant cultures. But there was a major exception: Ireland. The Irish cultivation of the potato allowed for prosperity and population growth. By 1800 one third of the population of the United Kingdom were Irish.
This changed. The potato famine led to mass starvation and emigration.
We all know the reason: the famine. The reality here is that Russian stubbornness may not have been easy to rationalize, but the rejection of “expertise” in this case was socially meritorious.