Today’s obsession with a common, boring vegetable began when I read on the front of a frozen food item I’d picked up at Kroger that the product contained “farm potatoes.”
As opposed to what, I wondered.
Free-range? Wild-caught? Urban contemporary? Factory fresh? Recycled?
What kind of half-baked idea is this? Aren’t all potatoes farm potatoes?
My grandad would know, but unfortunately, he’s no longer around to consult. He liked potatoes enough to close out his first career as a Portland physician in order to spend the rest of his working life as a Central Oregon potato grower.
That part of the world, where I spent most of my first 18 years, lies on the edge of the High Desert, where the average annual rainfall only occasionally makes it into double digits. So Grandad spent a lot of time in the sun, moving irrigation water from Point A to Point B by ditch, canvas diversion dams and plastic syphon pipes to keep his spuds growing, rather than dehydrating on the spot.
Grandad drove the only car I have ever seen that sported a bumper sticker bearing the slogan “Eat Central Oregon Russets for Your Health.” I doubt that more than a tiny fraction of motorists who saw the sticker understood it because (a) grandad drove pretty darn fast, making the sticker difficult to read, or (b) few people are aware that russets are a variety of potato, and those who know what russets are aren’t likely to associate them with health food.
I thought that putting a picture of a russet on the bumper sticker that would emphasize the Central Oregon potato’s good taste, rather than its good nutritional values, would be helpful and might sell more spuds. Someone on the potato board apparently agreed, because the following year a new sticker appeared on a bumper near me.
But, while I had envisioned a steaming baked potato dripping melted butter and sour cream down its sides, the potato board artist chose a different image: A darker-than-life oblong image of what was meant to be a russet. It looked more like something that, if placed in the ground in close proximity to a potato, would help make it grow faster, if not healthier.
I think Grandad would be pleased to learn that the health benefits of spuds are still being touted. I checked in with Potatoes USA’s website and learned that potatoes provide more potassium than bananas and are fat, sodium, gluten and cholesterol-free — at least until you can generously salt them and load them with butter and cheese.
But I think even Grandad would draw the line at slurping down Potatoes USA’s recipe for a potato, chocolate and peanut butter smoothie. After all, his bumper stickers never said anything about drinking Central Oregon Russets for your health.