I Like Potahto

4 Jun

“It is easy to think of potatoes, and fortunately for men who have not much money it is easy to think of them with a certain safety. Potatoes are one of the last things to disappear, in times of war, which is probably why they should not be forgotten in times of peace.”

How to Cook a Wolf, 1942, pg. 152.

From LIFE Magazine, March 9, 1942, page 51 via Google Books

Here’s another food facts post brought on by my last recipe attempt which featured the potato. According to Michael Pollan in his excellent The Botany of Desire, the potato was responsible for eliminating scurvy in Europe and, along with milk, will provide all the nutrition a person needs. Mary Frances, too, understood the importance of potatoes and dedicated an entire chapter (“How to Pray for Peace”)  to them and other starches.

War Garden Potato Cartoon, 1918

1918 War Garden Cartoon from The National War Garden Commission's "The War Garden Guyed," page 15 via Google Books

Those who had endured the Great War (which Mary Frances did) would have remembered the desperate potato shortage in Europe and the threatened shortage in the United States caused by bad weather, shipping difficulties, the need to feed soldiers, fear, and food-hoarding. The importance of the potato, then, in World War II (if only to reduce the fear of future starvation), must have been immense.

Potatoes store well, are relatively easy to grow and cook, and were not rationed in the United States during WWII. The US government identified the spud as an essential commodity and potato production here at home was increased. The large-scale processing of dehydrated potatoes also took off during the war with 33 million pounds being supplied to the military by one company alone during the years 1942-1945.  Interestingly, the United States was also receiving potatoes from other countries in Reverse Lend-Lease foodstuffs. In the 1942-1943 fiscal year American soldiers received 9,150,000 lbs. of potatoes from New Zealand, 29,762,00 lbs. from Australia, and more (exact numbers not found) from the UK.

Dehydrated, Natural, and Sliced Potatoes, 1943

Photograph by Ann Rosener from the Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress), 1943.

With the importance of the potato, I am starting to understand why the draconian fertilizing and pesticide regimes were developed and thought necessary (more on that later). But, if I’m eating a potato today, I’m going organic.

Further Reading on Potatoes:

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. New York: Random House, 2001. See particularly Chapter 4: “Desire: Control/Plant: The Potato.”

Salaman, Redcliff N. & J.G. Hawkes. The History and Social Influence of the Potato. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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