Still life with an Earthen Bowl and Potatoes

The Great Potato Nutrition Policy Crisis

Remember when grains were good? Judging by the nutrition red alert arising from the possibility that potatoes might be classified as a grain instead of a vegetable, maybe grains are on the naughty list now. Brave potato defenders in the U.S. Senate are rising up to keep this from happening. They want to save us from a potato policy disaster.

The Ominous Threat

It seems that shadowy agents of an anti-potato conspiracy are out to get this humble tuber. Recently, we got a glimpse from the Washington Post of the plot to take potatoes off the list of vegetables and call it a grain. The Post described a debate over whether to stop promoting the potato as a nutritious vegetable and frustration of some advocates with a powerful adversary – big potato.

Nutrition policy advocate and potato skeptic Jerold Mande came right out and said it. He thinks people are eating too many potatoes and wants to demote potatoes from their favored status as a vegetable. The problem, he says, is that potatoes go into too many of those awful ultra-processed foods:

“At some point, we are going to have to come to grips with how sick we are. It’s more so ultra-processed food that’s the problem rather than potatoes, but it depends on what the potatoes are made into and how they’re made.

“There’s no shortage of potatoes in people’s diets. In fact, there’s an excess.”

Apparently, he’s still smarting from the failure of an effort to demote potatoes during the Obama administration. He told the Post:

“Why didn’t it get the support it needed? Because the food industry and their allies are politically powerful. No one was banning potatoes. We were just saying, ‘Look, if you’re going to give people more money for extra vegetables, it shouldn’t be potatoes.’”

Big Potato Defenders in the Senate

As if to prove Mande’s point about the political power of big potato, a bipartisan group of 14 senators wrote to the U.S. Department Agriculture, as well as Health and Human Services to put a stop to this talk of demoting potatoes:

“The scientific justification behind the assertion that potatoes are not vegetables is not strong, and there are documented nutritional benefits of potatoes. Therefore, we strongly oppose any reclassification of potatoes to the grain category under the DGAs [Dietary Guidelines for Americans].”

Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

From our vantage point, it seems like this is much ado about nothing. USDA says the committee working on recommendations for the next edition of the DGAs “is not considering a change to the classification of potatoes.” Such a change “is not within their purview.”

So partisans can use this for any narrative they like. Mande can complain that big potato once again is trampling righteous nutrition advocates like himself. Senators can tell potato famers back home that they are standing up for the lowly spud.

But at the end of the day, facts are stubborn. Potatoes are vegetables.

Click here and here for more on this hot debate, here for more on the demonization of potatoes.

Still life with an Earthen Bowl and Potatoes, painting by Vincent van Gogh / WikiArt

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March 29, 2024

One Response to “The Great Potato Nutrition Policy Crisis”

  1. March 30, 2024 at 9:10 am, Neva Cochran said:

    In 2018, when there was another attack on potatoes, I wrote this blog with the facts: