Oh Potatoes

All evening our NBC affiliate station was running ominous ‘teasers’ for their 10:00 broadcast about injustice and bullying…

of potatoes.

Ah, yes. We Idahoans are very proud and protective of our spuds. Our state vegetable is not to be slighted. And apparently that is just what was going to happen. I was intrigued; I had to tune in for this lead story.

In somber, perhaps slightly incredulous tones, my newscasters explained that the USDA was moving to ban potatoes from the list of foods that can be purchased with WIC funding (the federal Women, Infants and Children program was created to help children, and mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding, who are at risk for malnutrition). Additionally, they said that this may mean that the use of potatoes in federally funded school lunch programs will be re-examined.

Understandably, potato farmers are protesting this decision. They would have us remember that potatoes contain more potassium than bananas, and are high in Vitamin C and many other vitamins.

I usually like my newscasters. They have even been accused of leaning a bit left. As I listened to them, I got the distinct impression that all they were doing was stirring the pot. They would like to see people get fired up over this government interference in their dietary choices. How ludicrous that, in Idaho of all places, they were going to take potatoes away from our children.

Yeah… I’m gonna have to oust myself as a non-Idahoan here. I am not a potato hater, mind you. I am looking at this very objectively, without my own feelings about potatoes influencing my thought process on way or the other.  But… hooray for the USDA (and the Institute of Medicine, the branch of the National Academy of Sciences who made the recommendation)!

Here is the problem.

A potato, innocent root vegetable, does in fact contain many vitamins and minerals.  However, humans cannot digest the starches in raw potatoes. So to eat them, we cook them. Boiling and baking both deplete vitamin C, frying adds fat and reduces minerals. More often than not, the potatoes are also peeled first, or the peel is not consumed, meaning even more nutrients are lost.

This is kinda the best-case scenario:


(Per 100 g, after boiling in skin and peeling before consumption) Source: United States Department of Agriculture, National Nutrient Database



Now, if the potato could only be prepared as above, there would not be a problem, and you can bet this ban would never have been suggested. But WIC funds were meant only to provide money to supplement the basics with highly nutritious foods; there is a long list of  items that qualify or do not qualify. It is not the same as a Food Stamps program. And a potato that has been deep-fried, mashed with butter and milk, or baked and filled with cheese, sour cream, and bacon (while delicious) can no longer considered a highly nutritious food.

Honestly, if the story had only been about WIC, I probably wouldn’t have paid attention. But I get so angry about my students’ cafeteria lunches sometimes, and it feels like there is nothing I can do. I am cautiously hopeful that they may be re-evaluated on a federal level.

Here are some highlights from our monthly menu choices (these are meant to offer two servings of carbohydrates, one serving of protein, and one serving of fruit or vegetable… oh and one serving of dairy from their cartons of flavored milk, but I won’t get started on that).

Mini Corn Dogs and French Fries

Fish Sticks and Potato Smiles (processed and pressed into an unsettling smiley face)

Chicken Nuggets and Potato Tots

Pork Choppie (processed long past recognition as a chop) and Mashed Potatoes with a Whole-Wheat Roll

Cheeseburger and French Fries

Yup. Processed potatoes count as vegetables. It’s like a bad joke. But it’s real. Our salad bar also no longer contains salad. I assume this is because they realized how much money they could save if they no longer had to offer ranch dressing for anything, it certainly couldn’t be because iceberg lettuce cost too much.

I wish that parents would get mad about this. There is power in numbers, and they could make a difference. It is sickening. YOUR KIDS ARE EATING FRIED, PROCESSED, POTATO PARTICLES AND BEING TOLD THEY ARE VEGETABLES!

If the USDA limits the inclusion of potatoes in school lunches, or better yet, requires them to be served boiled or baked and recognizable as a potato, I will consider it a step forward. If that makes me un-Idahoan, then I’ll blame the 12 years prior as an Oregonian.


~ by Lindsey on October 22, 2010.

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