Friday, March 7, 2008

International Year of the Potato

The United Nations has declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato. What an honor for the lowly tuber! Apparently, the idea is that the potato could, if grown more widely in developing countries, help alleviate hunger and decrease poverty; it is a very land-efficient way of producing calories quickly. It has a long history of doing just that, from its start in the Andes to the Irish peasants who subsisted on it in the 19th century (until a disease attacked the one kind of potato they grew and ruined all their crops, leading to the Potato Famine and massive immigration to the United States). The abundant calories potatoes provided underwrote the Industrial Revolution in England by requiring fewer farm workers than other crops; the displaced farm hands moved to the cities to find jobs - and then ate roasted potatoes sold on the streets (since they didn't have kitchens). In a modern twist, Peru is hoping that increased interest in unusual varieties of potatoes will help the poorest Peruvians who live in the Andean highlands where these varieties grow.

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