Why Potatoes Are Called “The Versatile Starch”

Eliza MacKnight, Revolution Reporter

The potato is quite possibly the most underappreciated and judged food out there, being used as an insult (“Don’t be a couch potato!”) and taken advantage of day after day for it’s simplicity and accessibility. Ironically, it’s also the base for a majority of our favorite dishes and appetizers. It can be mashed, roasted, whipped, fried, baked, you name it and it could probably be done with a potato. This might seem elementary, but it’s about time we all take a moment to value the potato for what it really is: a universally versatile starch.

Growing up doing every after-school activity available to me, I rarely went a day without stopping at the McDonalds drive-thru for french fries before going to soccer practice or a Girl Scouts meeting. I also have fond memories of my mom using them as a bribe to make me run errands with her or to stop fighting with my sister. The ever-famous instant mashed potatoes were used for dinner the nights my dad was out of town and my mom didn’t feel like cooking, and kettle cooked potato chips proved the perfect snack when I wasn’t in the mood for fruits or vegetables (which was always). Case in point, the tranquility and happiness of my childhood was based around the existence of the potato.

Fast forward ten years and here I am, a sixteen year old with a driver’s license and a high metabolism. If you think I don’t stop multiple mornings a week to get Chick-fil-a hash browns on the way to school, you’re mistaken. Also, I convinced my rowing coach to reward good practices with Spudnuts, ask for kid’s menus at restaurants so fries are always an option, stock up on packaged Panera baked potato soup every time I go to Food Lion, and buy frozen latkes from Trader Joe’s when I feel like branching out. I realize this is grounds for extreme judgment, but before you judge me, take a moment to process this; you probably do alot of the same things as me. You probably also fail to realize the importance and relevance the potato holds on modern society.

Typically we don’t stop to think about how truly well-known and valued the potato is worldwide. If you take a European and force them to eat Pringles and beef jerky, they will be utterly repulsed and make aggressive comments about how they’ll never visit the United States (I saw this in a video on Buzzfeed), and if you make Americans try strange Japanese snacks, they will make offensive comments regarding Asian food (also seen on Buzzfeed). However, if you stick a potato in front of someone, regardless of their homeland, chances are they will immediately recognize it. This is due to the fact that every continent, with the exception of Antarctica, can take credit for either harvesting a percentage of the world’s potatoes, or consuming a percentage. It’s the third most important crop grown, and accounts for over 300 million tons sold worldwide each year.

As crazy as it might sound, this plant has brought countries together more effectively over the past century than the things most commonly thought of as bringing peace, like religion and entertainment. China and India have embraced the potato as a main source of national income, developing African nations have discovered the potato as a cheap food alternative as well an economical booster, and countries settled in the Andes mountains take pride in being the original planters of it. It’s astonishing how such a seemingly irrelevant and unimportant crop could change the world. But it’s done just that. The next time you go to eat a potato, tell it thank you; because while you see it as something to cure your hunger, the batch of potatoes that one came from could also be used to make a country richer or to fill the stomach of a starving child.