Sometimes, eating your fill is not just about filling your belly.
Though it may not be the first thing that springs to mind as you inhale a morning bowl of cornflakes or succumb to the salt and vinegar temptation of a post-pub bag of chips, eating is, as author Michael Pollan has said, both an environmental and a political act, “for how we choose to eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world.” Ah yes, you can always trust Michael Pollan to pile on the weightiness when it comes to food and food matters.
Still, the man does have a point. We do not eat in isolation – even the most mundane-seeming meal may be the end result of a complex global production chain and has a bearing on more than just our personal feeling of fullness. As it happens, there are two far from mundane events taking place in Dublin later this month which aim to both fill our plates and get us thinking about how that food got there and what food got left behind.
Next Sunday, November 18th, sees the SPUDS.ie Tastefest at The Fumbally in Dublin 8 – where folks who have grown naturally blight resistant varieties of potato will bring them for tasting – while on the following Saturday, November 24th, those in the vicinity of Dublin city centre are invited to avail of a free meal, as well as plenty of food for thought, at the Feeding the 5000 event, which aims to highlight the global issue that is food waste, and is being held in Wolfe Tone Park in Dublin 1.
See, the thing is that Europeans were generally suspicious of spuds in the early years after their arrival from the New World and, however hard it may be for me to imagine, a great many people were loathe to eat them. They were rumoured, among many other things, to be a cause of leprosy, which would, you’d have to admit, be a bit of a turnoff.
Frederick the Great: a great man for the spuds
(image © akg-images from www.germany.info)
The tubers had their champions though, and motivated by a disastrous failure of crops in the late 18th Century, King Frederick The Great of Prussia, who had quite rightly figured that potatoes would be a rather excellent way of feeding the poor, is reported to have issued what has been called “The Brandenburg Potato Paper” in 1770. This was an edict which gave peasant farmers a choice between planting potatoes and having their ears and noses cut off (which, one would think, was a bit of a no-brainer). Within a few years, and after sustained official pressure (which may or may not have involved relieving the peasantry of certain extremities), potatoes became a Prussian dietary staple, even to the point where, less than ten years after the edict, the Bavarian War of Succession (1778-9) became known as the Potato War, because the Prussian and Austrian armies involved spent a great deal of their time foraging for food and digging up the local potato crop.
“I’m a Swede, I never buy potatoes in Ireland.”
So ran the subject line of an email I received a while back from a Swedish reader who was clearly very exercised by the all-too-frequent sight in of potatoes lying exposed to daylight in Irish shops. “Spuds should be kept in darkness,” he protested, “they develop poisonous solanine in daylight” and he was emphatic about not being prepared to buy potatoes thusly displayed at any price.
And my Scandinavian correspondent, I have to say, had a point.
And lo, exhibit A: Golden Wonders on display