Last month, I – as a blog, that is – turned seven. Fancy that.
And while seven years might suggest, oh, a certain itchiness or an extended sojourn in Tibet, in spud years, I think of it as closer to 21, a coming of age of sorts. Though it’s been quiet on these pages of late, potatophile that I am, I have remained wired in to spud channels, and let me tell you that they have been abuzz. Not least among recent events – and coincident with my birthday last month – was the launch of a three year potato promotion campaign by Bord Bia here in Ireland and the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board in the UK, sporting the tagline “Potatoes: More than a bit on the side.” It aims to encourage those who may be inclined to dismiss potatoes as old fashioned – fuddy duddy spuddies, as it were – to think again. I didn’t hesitate when asked to get involved.
Alas poor spud, we loved you well. Thing is, we seem not to love you quite as much now as we did way back when.
The situation is this: sales of fresh potatoes in these parts have been on a more or less downward trajectory for several years. Be it that they’re seen as a less than exciting, or less than convenient choice for dinner, or mistakenly perceived as fattening (when, they, personally, contain no fat to speak of) or because of general anti-carb sentiments, spuds have become a less frequent visitor to our tables. This is not news, exactly – it’s a story that has popped up regularly over the past couple of decades and, for that matter, regularly on this blog (prompting, among other things, my top ten guide to sprucing up your spuds).
Who loves ya, spud?
They say we produce the most potatoes per person in the world.
So Stanley MacDonald commented casually as we sat in the café at Prince Edward Island‘s potato museum, munching through cinnamon rolls (which, needless to remark, featured a little added potato in the dough). With 145,000 residents on PEI and a production of around 1.1 million tonnes annually, the assertion sounded perfectly plausible – an output of 7.5+ tonnes per person is a whole lot of spuds in anyone’s book.
With production in such quantities and with potatoes such an integral part of island life, it’s no great surprise that PEI should be home to a potato museum, one of the few in the world – reason enough for yours truly, and for the generally spud inclined, to visit. Head ‘up west’ to the community of O’Leary in the heart of PEI potato territory and you’ll find it – a giant spud marks the spot.
A rather big spud marks the entrance to the Canadian Potato Museum on Prince Edward Island.
Sure what else would you have?
Sure it never rains but it pours. And while that old adage could be applied, literally, to the winter we’ve just had, over the past week, it has also been true of life in the spud lane.
It includes the clip above, for a program which will see me passing across the nation’s TV screens on Mon. Feb 24th (and more of that anon), but it started last Tuesday, with the I.F.A.’s National Potato Conference, and continued with a flurry of media reportage over the following days. Though, sadly, I could not attend the conference myself – there was the small matter of the day job, which keeps me in the spuds to which I have become accustomed – I think that the essence of what was said at the conference echoed the same event two years ago: we need to tackle falling levels of spud consumption and do what we can to promote the potato (because, y’know, it’s a damn fine thing to eat, as things to eat go).
The latest development in this respect is a commitment made by various interested parties – the Irish Potato Federation, the Irish Farmer’s Association and Bord Bia – to prepare an application for EU co-funding to support a €1M potato promotion campaign over the next three years, which will reflect the potato’s versatility and health benefits and, if all goes according to plan, stimulate long term consumer demand for spuds.***
*** A note to any spud officials reading: am available for potato promotion and generally bigging up the spud, and for a lot less than €1M too.