I just found out today—please don’t ask me how—that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato. That’s IYP, for those of you who are on the inside track.
Who knew such amazing facts as 1/3 of all the world’s potatoes are grown in China and India, that Dan Quayle still can’t spell the word, and that McDonald’s fries have more corn in them than potatoes (at least, as far as calories are concerned)?
The United Nations has gone all out with the spuds, producing a high-tech video, a complete history of the food, and a contest for the best potato recipe and photographs. And there are holidays and festivals around the world: if you can’t make this month’s Potato Congress in Ecuador, you may want to go to Fort Fairfield, Maine this July for the nine day Potato Blossom Festival featuring concerts, beauty pageants, sports, and mashed potato wrestling.
As important, potatoes are the fourth most important food staple, after wheat, rice (which had its year in 2004—sorry you missed it), and—of course—corn, which is the Number One food source for Americans and the world.
It might be safe to say—as Michael Pollen does in The Omnivore’s Dilemma—that humans have evolved into the “koalas of corn.” Heavily subsidized by the federal government, corn is remarkably cheap and is therefore overgrown and used for nearly everything food-related. It fattens our beef (in a most unnatural and even unhealthy way, often complicating cattle digestion; cows are therefore fed antibiotics to offset its effects); milled, it is ethanol for our gas tanks; it thickens fast food milkshakes; it’s the oil in margarine; it’s packed into bread and vitamins; it holds together the bits of meat in a “chicken” McNugget, and it replaces sugar as an infamous sweetener (high fructose corn syrup) in many of our foods, including ketchup, yogurt, salad dressing, and soda.
More, each bushel of corn grown uses up to a third of a gallon of oil, with all of its environmental and political problems. And it produces an economic paradox, says Pollen: the more corn we produce, the cheaper the cost. The cheaper the cost, the farmer reasons, the more need to grow more corn next season to increase profits. The more corn that is grown, the more we need to seek places to use it. Thus we create ethanol for our cars, and we bleach the nutrients out of it to make our breakfast cereals (and then feel better when those cereals are re-“fortified” with essential vitamins, also made from corn).
Debate rages on about biofuels. Will growing corn for fuel reduce the amount of food necessary for the world population? Rather than detail the argument here, I will merely refer to the above paragraph. As important, the increased production of corn displaces other crops which might also benefit the need for diversity in our food supply.
Want a good read? Pick up Pollen’s book. In the meantime, I have to check the ingredients list on my box of Ore-Ida’s.