Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One Potato, Two Potato

Deus Ex Machina was telling me the other day that he read an article stating that Congress was contemplating a bill to ban all potato products from school lunches. The concern is that our school children are obese and that the culprit is potatoes.

The Senators from the few potato growing States (including Maine), of course, took umbrage with this proposal and fought against it (I think Deus Ex Machina said they won and the Bill was overturned).

I don't think potatoes are the culprit in our country's health problems, and in fact, at least where I come from, potatoes have been a dietary staple for hundreds of years. While there have been some recent attempts to vilify the lowly potato, there's a lot more evidence to suggest grains, like corn (see The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan), or an overuse of wheat-based products (see any discussion on gluten sensitivity), are actually much worse, and much more culpable in the growing obesity epidemic that is sweeping our country.

This Bill is just one more example of the federal government overstepping its bounds. It's a mistake, and we, our farmers, our schools, and our children will suffer if laws like this are permitted to go through.

In fact, we should be looking the whole school lunch program, and if we think it was some effort to make sure kids are eating nutritious meals, I think we're grossly mistaken (does anyone remember the attempts to label ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches?). It was, and is, and will always be, about money.

It has its origins in a program that wasn't, necessarily, about feeding kids, but rather the program was established as a way to prop up food prices by absorbing farm surpluses. In essence, the food served to school children since the National School Lunch Act was passed back in the 1940s is the extra stuff that farmers couldn't sell to the general public, and so to keep farmers in business, the federal government bought the food and served it to our children. It's not good enough for the grocery stores, but plenty good enough to feed our kids ... and our soldiers, because it's the same food they serve in the mess halls.


I like to think that the federal government wanted to start controlling the potato growers and the potato growers told them to stick a hot one up [edited for family friendly content] ... ;), and so in retaliation, some [edited for family friendly content] in Washington decided to pass a bill that would prevent that one crop from being served in school lunchrooms.

I don't know that that's how it happened, but what I do know is that I'm a potato eater. I like potatoes. They're easy to grow. They're incredibly versatile. They store well.

And they're actually pretty good for us - high in Vitamin C, with Vitamin A, calcium and iron, and contain protein and dietary fiber. Compare that to wheat. Worse, wheat requires a good deal more energy to process to make it edible for humans, and it requires a good deal more land to grow an equivalent amount.

If I had to choose between wheat and potatoes, I'll take my potato - thank you very much.

In fact, for lunch today at the Wyvern Academy (our "exclusive, all-girls -home- school"), we had potatoes in a show of support to the potato growers of Maine. There is at least one *school* where the lunch program isn't dictated by government surplus.

And my girls relished every bite.


  1. I don't remember the last time that roasted potatoes, or boiled potatoes, or even baked potatoes were on a public school menu. I think that more often than not, the potatoes that are served are french fries or tater tots or hash browns...I could be wrong though. :-)

  2. If that's the case, Heather, that the reason they want to discontinue serving potatoes is because of the way they're prepared, I think that's even more sad.

    I haven't had school cafeteria food in a very long time, but if they're still serving things like grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese, they would do a lot more good for our kids by outlawing the fake (government surplus) cheese and keeping the potatoes.

  3. I never ate butter until after I was 65 because the butter served in the schools was always slightly rancid. I thought that was the way it was supposed to taste so we always had margarine! Sad isn't it?

  4. @ Anon 12:40 - yes, I think that's very sad. Fresh butter is so yummy ... and so much better for us than margarine ;).

  5. I agree, with your post and Heather's point about virtually ALL of the potatoes served at school cafeterias are either deep fried or highly processed. Potatoes are indeed quite healthy if prepared in ways they would most commonly have been in home kitchens, say, fifty years ago - baked, boiled, mashed, roasted, etc. But those methods aren't so practical when you're dealing with sub-par potatoes that would otherwise be a waste product. So much more economical to process, package, freeze and ship...

    We mashed homegrown turnips and spuds together a couple nights ago, added homegrown scallions and some buttermilk and really enjoyed them that night, then again as leftovers made into pancakes. Our own, non-traditional neeps and tatties were a hit! too.

  6. If schools are looking for a more healthful way to serve potatoes that is not too time consuming, they could simply slice (unpeeled, but washed) potatoes into 1/4 inch rounds, spritz with a bit of olive oil, a dash of salt-free seasoning (like Mrs. Dash for example) and line on baking trays in a single layer to bake. The 'ends' or odd-sized pieces could simply be chopped and added into other dishes.

    Each child could get 2 slices along with a dab of homemade ketsup:
    (clearly, this recipe would be increased exponentially to feed more people)

    1 (6oz) can tomato paste, 1/2 cup carrot puree (cook carrots and puree), 1/4 cup water, 2 tbsp apple-cider vinegar, 2 cloves garlic (minced), 1 tbsp firmly packed light or dark brown sugar (optional - I never add it personally), 1/2 tsp dry mustard, 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, 1/4 tsp chili powder (or to taste).

    ~ Stir all together in a saucepan and bring to boil over med-hi heat, reduce heat and simmer until mixture is reduced by half (15-20 mins). Let cool before serving. - refridgerate in airtight container for about a week (mine has kept for 2 weeks just fine in the fridge) or freeze in 1/4 cup amounts in freezer safe container/ziploc bag for months.

    Another way to serve potatoes would be chopped up in a fritata or a potato latke (pancake of shredded potatoe), cooked in olive oil. I bet kids would love them!

  7. I don't remember having anything other than fries or "tots" back in my school days - but then, that was a very long time ago. LOL My daughter was enrolled in a DoDEA school for one school year (2008-2009) and that was the norm for "potatoes" for her as well.

    Actually my favorite school lunch as a kid was a slice of pizza (anybody else remember rectangular pizza?) and a big helping of crinkle fries. Then I worked in a big store that had a McDonalds in it - and my boss's daughter was the manager. I frequently ate a Super Size of fries for dinner (I sure couldn't sneeze at free food - my choice was free fries or Top Ramen ... or in this case, fried sodium or stringy sodium).

    I'm surprised I didn't keel over by age 22, frankly. ;-)

  8. I'm sure a lot of people here have seen Supersize Me, right? I thought it fascinating that when one school district switched to a menu of mostly local and organic foods, discipline problems all but disappeared in return for a smaller than expected increase in the food budget.

    I seem to remember mashed potatoes in our school lunches, but I'm over 50. I'd think that would be the best way to deal with blemished spuds, except for the brown sodium paste (oops, I mean gravy) poured over it. Yeah, I think deep-fried everything — plus fast-food joints being allowed to serve food in schools — has more to do with obesity than one particular food (including corn & wheat).

    Melanie, ramen can be pretty healthy if prepared right (step one, throw out the sodium packet or use at most a pinch) and darn tasty. But it's not 25¢ anymore, unless you have your own garden.

    Ha, the verification word is "prole" — anyone been reading 1984 lately?

  9. @ FARf - 1984 Great book! But a little too close to real for comfort, ne c'est pas?

    Ew! To Ramen. We used to "cook" it in our coffee pot when I lived in the barracks, but we usually left out the seasoning packet and added our own toppings. I remember that ranch dressing was popular ;).