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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Year of the Potato

This is year is the year of the potato, declared so by the United Nations. And Peru, the land of origin of the humble potato, has declared 2008 to be the national year of the potato. A classy website www. has been set-up to promote the humble potato. And one can look forward to events such as Homage to the Spud (Canada), Spud Day (Australia), Intellectual Property and Potato Conference (The Netherlands) and Potato Symposium (Sri Lanka).

Many of us would be surprised why the Potato is getting so much attention. We are used to potatoes living a humble life. At supermarkets, they are stacked up in large dirty sacks, never getting the respect received by such pampered lots as French Cabbage or Japanese Mustard Spinach. In many bachelor homes like mine, they are often bought and then forgotten. However, these sturdy optimistic warriors linger on and produce a few sprouts in a final act of defiance before succumbing to our indifference and microbes. And the potato has gained a notorious image of being unhealthy because of its unwarranted association with fast food Goliaths like McDonalds and KFC. Some Americans blame the potato for JFK’s death since the Kennedys wouldn’t have left Ireland had there been no Irish potato famine. And closer home, everyone knows how the cricketer Inzamam Ul Haq went into a rage when he was called a potato by a spectator in Toronto.

So will this year be the year when the so deserving potato establishes its rightful place of honor? May be it all depends on whether Gordon Ramsey bad mouths the potato on television or whether Nigella Lawson tries do something sexy with the spud. But one can also get inspired by the case of Belarusians who produce 835.6 kg of potato per person in a year (Source: FAO). After all, for many well to do North Indians and Pakistanis, the potato is the only vegetable they ever consume. Personally, the UN publicity effort got me nostalgic about my childhood when cultivating potatoes would be a rather exciting activity. Unlike most other vegetables, where the crop is always visible during its stages of growth, there is a great measure of uncertainty with the potato. What will turn up when the heaped dry soil is scattered; will the potatoes come out large; how many of them will show up? And after so many books had been written on kitchen items like salt or the cod, finally the potato has its own book, “Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History”, by John Reader.

So will Inzamam actually like being called a potato in 2008? The humble potato is unlikely to have such a turnaround. After all, even I am writing this post only after I had run out of all ideas.

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