In Praise of Potato Irish
Whenever I see a sporting spud gracing a menu of hotelier renown, I order one. Whenever I seek the bounty of a full stomach, I peruse produce aisles—ogling
red and golden potatoes whose fungal pathogens in Ireland caused an estimated 600,000 or more of my ancestors’ demise. Whenever I stroll past these starchy works of art, I remember the farmers’ tenacity that tilled this earth apple’s historic come-back. In short, I have never met a potato I did not like.
My feverish desire for this bland veggie started long before my knowledge of the Great Potato Famine. My adoration grew when I learned that if my father had not broken our family pattern of poverty, my life would read quite differently. The Irish that primarily succumbed to disease and starvation from 1845-1849 were also first and foremost the poor. I boast of two great great great grandfathers who came from Wales and Ireland. More directly to my family line, however, was my great grandfather on my father’s side who was a tenant farmer. His son, my grandfather, also struggled to feed his only son—my father. Consequently, at the age of five, Dad lived in a loving Catholic home for children. One year’s stay in Kansas City, Missouri with a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus above his bed convinced Dad never to refuse those in want of a place to live; consequently, over the years, my own childhood home rippled with the laughter of many needy neighborhood voices.
A temporary fall in fortune met the potato as well. The Inca’s in 500 B.C. worshiped and ate these holy “papas,” but the French and English in the late 1500s and early 1600s feared these nightshade plants caused leprosy, syphilis and even sterility. However, the explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) is credited as the first Englishman to believe in the blessed tuber and bring it to Ireland. And by this time, too, after deathly encounters with their poisonous above-ground leaves, even the royal gentry of England realized the regal value of the potatoes’ saintly underground stems.
The most common variety is the white or Irish potato. Because this nutritional nugget contains protein, Vitamin C, minerals, niacin and riboflavin, it serves as its own full food group. One can live wholly and healthfully on the noble spud. Additionally, this complex carbohydrate is grown not only throughout the world but virtually in every state in America.
I am in good company, too, in my quest to uphold the sanctity of this cherished gem, because The United Nations in its vast wisdom has fondly and formally proclaimed 2008 “The Year of the Potato.” I believe in our national treasure—solanum tuberosum—this life-sustaining heirloom that has served as a mainstay global food source since ancient times.
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