Monday, February 4, 2013

Simple Things: The Potato

Sometimes its easy for me to forget all the changes I've made from the way-I'd-always-done-it to what-I-do-now.  I think that the potato is one simple, yet illustrative example of how any easy, little change can have broad reaching impacts. 

The potato has taken on a little bit of a bad rap, I think.  Its denounced as being high in starch and low in nutrients so much as to not even count as a vegetable.  It is strongly associated with oil and salt.  But, I think this bad rap is just because of the way we've culturally decided to use potatoes, by and large.

First and foremost Americans (taken as a whole) eat almost exclusively boring ol' Russet potatoes.  These white potatoes are prized by commercial food producers for their uniformity and high starchiness.  However, there are so many kinds of potatoes, each with different nutrients, that I feel we are selling the potato and ourselves short with our current preoccupation with Russets.  You know that saying that has taken over nutritionism--something about eating the rainbow of foods?  Well, that's how I feel about potatoes.  The ones with deep red flesh have different micro-nutrients to offer my body than the purple fleshed, which have different things to offer than the nearly yellow fingerlings, and so on.  I am told there are entire cultures in which food culture is built around the countless varieties of potatoes and related root vegetables.    But, here in the US if anything we've built it around the Russet.

We, collectively, eat so darn many Russets because according to 2012 statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture 72% of all potatoes consumed in the United States are consumed in processed form.  And Russets are the preferred potato of the commercial food manufacturers for the reasons stated above.  72%  I thought that was pretty shocking.  That means that 72% of all the potatoes eaten in the U.S. are commercially manufactured into tater tots, gazillions of kinds of french fries, frozen hash browns, instant mashed potatoes, canned soups, potato flour, potato pancake mix, etc.

That also means that 72% of the potatoes consumed in the U.S. were prepared by someone else-- someone with more of an interest in making money than in my health and the health of our planet.

I used to buy frozen french fries and hashbrowns and instant mashed potatoes and all that until I met Matt now seven years ago.  He clued me into what is fast becoming a secret to my generation--making these things at home is waaaaay better and not much harder.  They are fresher.  They are astronomically cheaper.  They are more nutritious.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but it really, really wasn't for me those years ago.  Homemade hashbrowns had quite literally never entered my mind until I met Matt.  I just thought everyone bought hashbrowns in the freezer section at the store or at McDonald's.  I'd never eat them any other way.  So, it never occurred to me that another way was possible.

So the whole-potato (as opposed to the processed potato products) thing was a pretty revolutionary idea in my cooking world.

By growing (or purchasing) a whole potato I have a range of options available to me--mashed, fried, hashed, roasted, baked, scalloped, au gratin, fries, chips, gnocchi, and on and on.  Options that don't come in a disposable plastic bag, or fried in GMO oil, or preserved with harsh chemicals, or made the "proper" color with unnatural food dyes, or over-salted.  You get my point.  I just emphatically believe it is such a better option.

Example:  It takes less than 5 minutes to hash a couple potatoes into breakfast hashbrowns for Matt and I.  Probably under 3 minutes even .  It might only take under a minute to pour pre-made, frozen hashbrowns into a pan, but I'd rather take the extra two minutes to get, what is in my mind at least, a final product that is superior in every way.

Its just that simple.  And simple things add up. 
A potato medley of three colors.
(And speaking of potatoes, Matt has informed me that we're officially down to the last basket of homegrown potatoes from the 2012 harvest now.)  

3 comments:

  1. Funny I just had a conversation along these lines with my mother this morning. We were talking about baked potatoes and I said I just absolutely love them plain, nothing at all on them, if it is a good tater it will taste good! My conclusion is we never even try the baked tater plain because every one eats them with butter, or any combo of toppings and plain is just not thought about. I like corn on the cob plain the corn simply is flavorful enough it needs no more.
    We become so conditioned to adding butter, cheese, dressing to anything that it seems odd not to and people simply assume you need to add these things to make the food taste good when all along the food tastes most excellent on its own. As a vegan I eat many things "plain" and I think I am getting the best deal, good health, and really tasting the food I am eating.

    Bean

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  2. If 72% of all potatoes in US are consumed in processed form, no wonder everyone associates potatoes with "bad for you." And think of all that trash.

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  3. This was a wonderful post! I keep trying to tell others that potatoes are not bad, that the junk we put with them is what is bad.

    When I lost 46 lbs in three months, I ate a baked potato with sour cream once a week. Actually, I brought half home for lunch the next day. For some other meals, I put potatoes and the rest of my vegetables in the pressure cooker. I did allow myself 1 tbsp of margarine on the whole plate of vegetables.

    People have this notion that all white vegetables/foods are bad for you.

    Russets, red skinned, and baked potatoes are what i usually eat, Yukon Gold is my favorite. The red ones just look too weird, but I am going to try them one day.

    How many baskets of potatoes did you have to begin with? What I want to know is what percent of your potato harvest have you eaten.

    The only frozen or other potato products I have had is the flaked potatoes. Daddy made hash browns all the time. Well, he had to have potatoes at every meal...no joke.

    Great post!

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Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!