The mix-up between yams and sweet potatoes originated from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yams are an important part of West African food traditions. European slave traders steered their ships across the Middle Passage, they packed yams, along with black-eyed peas, to feed their captives. Slave merchant John Barbot estimated that 100,000 yams were required to sustain a ship bringing over 500 enslaved people, just 200 yams per person for a journey that could take months. In the Americas, where yams were not readily available, sweet potatoes, which had traveled from Central America with Christopher Columbus, took their place. As Dr. Scott Alves Barton, a chef and culinary educator who teaches at NYU, wrote in the February issue of Food & Wine , sweet potatoes became one of several transfer foods, a throughline allowing enslaved peoples to preserve their traditions and spiritual practices even in the face of captivity and abuse.