Vegetable Lamb of Tartary
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
As I travel teaching media literacy courses, one of the mostly commonly heard statements is that “fake news” is nothing new. It is correct to say that “fake news” has existed in different forms over the course of history. Whether it is propaganda, advertising, or the use of misleading headlines, it is the dissemination of false or misleading information. The Rand Corporation, in a recent study which is detailed in Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life, identified three other eras in American history that had some similar characteristics to our current times. The periods they identified were The Gilded Age, The Roaring Twenties, and the Vietnam Era. However, as Michael Rich (President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rand Corporation, stated in an interview our current times are different in several ways. These differences will be discussed in a future post.
One of the most amusing and early pieces of “fake news” I came across was the story of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. In the 14th century Sire John Mandeville, an English knight, was said to have traveled through Asia Minor, northern Africa, and into India. When he returned to England, he reported finding a tree in India with gourd shaped fruit. He said that inside the fruit there was fully developed lambs. Tartary is the tartar word for sheep. As outrageous as this story sounds, it circulated and was believed for nearly 400 years by educated Europeans before it was finally deemed a myth. It is speculated that what he Mandeville really encountered was a cotton plant.