Monday, February 1, 2010

When Good Food Goes Bad

All that glitters is not gold.  It's potatoes - one of the most important imports that Columbus brought to Europe from his travels. Potatoes, although not as glamourous as gold, became the subsistence crop for Ireland and for much of central and eastern Europe. They are the world's fourth largest food crop, after rice, wheat, and maize, and are still a main staple in the diet and favourite in the recipes of several cultures.

Potatoes seem so down to earth and homey, the backdrop for turkey gravy, a side dish to most everything, but they provide a nutritional wallop of fibre, vitamins, carbohydrate, even protein. The nutritional data below is from the site for The International Year of the Potato-2008. (Who knew?)

So how does a good potato go bad? (And I don't mean by spoiling.) Human intervention is one way; Mother Nature's intervention is the other. Both have caused and continue to cause human suffering.

Perhaps the most famous and horrible of Mother Nature's interventions into the goodness of the potato happened at various times in Ireland, most notably in the Great Famine of 1845-1852 when the potato blight infected the crop. Mother Nature was also responsible for a famine in Ireland in 1740-1741, sending cold and rain that ruined the harvests.

The disease in the potato crop brought cultural, social, political, governmental, religious, racial, and economic problems the Irish experienced at the hands of the British to a tragic head that cost the lives of more than one million people. At least one million more emigrated. During the same period, the potato blight also infected crops throughout Europe, causing much hardship.

So it is a little surprising that we go to such lengths to take such a good food that can sustain us, indeed can form the bulk of our diet, and mess it up almost beyond recognition. Baked, boiled, steamed mashed, the naked potato is a healthful food, in spite of what some diet gurus may tell us.

What we do to it tastes so awfully good, but make of the potato something that is actually not very good for us. We break down its molecules and reconstitute them; we deep fry them, often adding trans fat, always adding many calories; we load them up with additions that drown their goodness.

There are hundreds of recipes for potatoes that are healthful or can easily be made so. We should value the lowly potato and treat it, and ourselves, with more respect.

There has been so much suffering from Mother Nature's intervention that we don't need to add the self-inflicted suffering of the diseases caused by good foods gone bad.


Ciss B said...

Being of Irish decent I understand about how the potato famine affected many of the poor in Ireland. But like you I feel we have killed what is a good source of vitamins. I love baked potatoes with veggies (no cheese!).

ChrisJ said...


Baked potatoes with salsa are awesome, too - and good for you.

Hels said...

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askcherlock said...

My grandparents left Ireland due to the famine as well. I love potatoes, but I'm not certain it is due to my heritage. I do tend to avoid them, though, as I watch eating carbs. From what you have written, perhaps it is time for me to re-think that.

ChrisJ said...


Thank you, I'm thrilled.

ChrisJ said...


They are good, and like so many other carb things, loaded with nutrients - of course I always want to overdo it!

One of The Guys said...

It seems potatoes are making a comeback. I've been hearing how good they are for you from different sources.

I always thought of them as high in carbs with little nutritional value, but clearly that's a lie that's been harvested in all our minds.

Time to say, "Pass the potatoes!"

ChrisJ said...


They are high carb, but moderation in all things! (Which is much easier said than done.)

Ryhen | Mind Power said...

Kewl! I like potatoes. Matter of fact, I like it better than rice, but too bad I've gotten used to eating the latter during meals and potatoes are a little bit expensive here. Btw, thanks for sharing a bit of history regarding potatoes. The last time I was here, I remember it was about beer. Makes me kinda wonder what will come next. Cheers!! =)

cooper said...

They are a carb nightmare but great after running or snowboarding or something like that.

ChrisJ said...


You're right, I do write a lot about food and drink! Hmmm.

ChrisJ said...


They are high glycemic index, but at least it's easy to bring that down with additions like veggies or protein.

Owen Gray said...

It was because of The Irish Famine that some of my ancestors settled in the Eastern Townships.I would not wish their pre-emigrant experience on anyone.

But I'm glad they landed where they did.

ChrisJ said...

Apparently the majority of Irish who escaped the famine came to Canada at the time. Saint John, NB where I grew up has many descendants from Irish emigres.

Cheap Soma Online said...

I love potatoes. Especially with skins on. And dipped in garlic aioli.

ChrisJ said...

Cheap Soma Online,

Mmmm - garlic aioli - I hadn't thought of that and will have to try.

Thank you for commenting.