Potatoes are losing their names and their flavours and we can contribute in trying to preserve both, says columnist. (Stock photo)

Potatoes are losing their names and their flavours and we can contribute in trying to preserve both, says columnist. (Stock photo)

Column: The humble potato needs rescuing from global forces

We can help build economies of local sustainability in basic needs, says columnist


According to Barack Obama, we are suffering from potentially crippling epistemic crisis. It helps to know that ‘episteme’ means knowledge and we’re talking about what knowledge to trust these days in order to arrive at a state of epistemic well-being. Kenneth Boyd (Psyche Magazine, January 2021) suggests we should: double or triple-check online sources, seek trustworthy sources, block mischief-makers and periodically examine our usual ways of collecting information.

Denial, hard-wired into humans, is a further hurdle to be overcome and requires help from trusted sources to overcome. Sources I trust, people accustomed to systems thinking, expect a collapse of urban civilization as the oil, gas and coal underpinning our urban/suburban lifestyles run out.

I am also an admirer of the work of Chris Smage, former sociology professor turned peasant farmer in Somerset, England, whose list of global threats runs from over-population through nine other global threats, including climate change, loss of fossil fuel energy, resources waste, failures in health and nutrition, land misuse, economic mismanagement and cultures of domination.

COLUMN: Biodiversity being lost as big data causes blight

I think it is obvious that already the combination of over-population and over-consumption by all of us (not just the greedy one per cent) is the underlying cause of all the other crises. However many of us survive, probably the only useful contribution we can make now is at the local level, building real economies of local sustainability in basic needs.

One of the places we could make a small start is by rescuing the humble potato.

The Aztecs left thousands of varieties but all we see in our supermarkets are nameless yellow, white, red and ‘baking.’ In less than five years, potatoes have lost their names: Desirées, Kennebecs, Nicolas, Norlands, Russet Burbanks, Sieglindes and fingerlings can only be found in certain garden stores or purchased to grow at Seedy Saturdays and Sundays. Even Canada’s excellent Yukon Golds are lost among the yellow flesh.

What’s more, all of them are mushy. Boiled potatoes aren’t worth mashing even if you can coax them not to fall apart while softening. All you get is a miserable, tasteless slush reminiscent of wallpaper paste. Baked potatoes should burst in floury clouds when cut. Where are the firm, waxy potatoes I want for roasting? I speculate that corporate greed has overfed all the poor tubers with water just like the fat strawberries that look luscious but taste like cucumber.

Recently I met a middle-aged person who told me they didn’t like potatoes. Granted there were some bad cooks in the past who produced over-boiled, soggy potatoes beside hunks of badly cooked meats and other slops but they in no way represent the delicious sides the generous vegetable can bestow. Apart from boiled potatoes with a dusting of salt and a dab of butter or mashed over heat with milk and some seasoning, I expect to be able to produce from my small stove scalloped, roasted and baked potatoes that are mouth-smacking, let alone roesti, latkes, croquettes and seafood cakes, aloo gobi, Duchess potatoes and the classy Gratin Dauphinois.

Here’s to bringing back edible potatoes, starting at the farmers’ markets.

COLUMN: Addressing over-consumption needs to be a priority

Marjorie Stewart is past chairperson of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The current boat used by Rugged Coast Research Society for remote shoreline cleanup operations will be replaced by a landing craft that will allow society members to haul four times as much marine garbage per trip from Vancouver Island’s remote shorelines. (Agathe Bernard photo/Rugged Coast Research Society)
Nanaimo-based research group needs bigger boat for coastal cleanups

Rugged Coast Research Society raising cash for landing craft to pull trash from remote shorelines

Pet owners are leaving more dog waste than ever before on Nanaimo’s paths and trails, says letter writer. (Stock photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Dog owners need to pick up after their pets

Letter writer says he’s ‘disgusted’ by dog walkers not picking up their dog waste

The Nanaimo African Heritage Society is capping its month of Black History Month celebrations with a virtual gala on Sunday, Feb. 28. (News Bulletin photo)
Nanaimo African Heritage Society presents virtual Black History Month gala

Event to feature a variety of speakers and performers

(Black Press file)
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools reports COVID-19 exposure at Cedar Elementary

School district says Island Health has completed contact tracing

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic oportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

1957 photo shows Six Mile House-sponsored #4 1932 Ford stock car with Frank Morris (from left), Ted Mackenzie, Bill Sim and driver Gerry Sylvester. (Bud Glover/Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame)
Memories race as Western Speedway approaches its finish line

‘It was life to us:’ Vancouver Island racers, crew will never forget what the track gave them

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Most Read