MOSES LAKE, Wash.-Ever since Chris Voigt started his all-potato diet a month ago, strangers have shared their spud stories with him.
Some have told him how potatoes sustained them through difficult financial times or medical problems in which potatoes were the only food they could eat.
"It really caught me off guard as to how passionate people are about potatoes," he said. "There are people who literally have just been eating potatoes for four or five years. I thought my 60 days were a big deal and a challenge, but there are some people out there truly just living off potatoes because it's the only thing their digestive system can handle."
On Nov. 1, Voigt, the executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, reached the halfway mark of a two-month-long, all-potato diet, designed to demonstrate that potatoes are healthful.
Voigt lost 13 pounds in three weeks and says he is fine physically, and has lots of energy.
Most of the time, eating only potatoes doesn't faze Voigt, but he admits there are temptations.
"Thirty percent of the time, I'm thinking, 'That pizza looks really good,' or 'A pickle would be awesome right now,'" he said.
The desire for pickles led Voigt to soak thin potato slices in pickle juice.
"They were just delightful," he said. "It was like I was eating a pickle. It had the crunchy texture and dill pickle flavor. That was a nice change of texture."
Voigt is confident he will make it to 60 days.
"If I didn't have a reason to be doing this, it would be very difficult," he said.
Voigt's diet has drawn media attention across the globe. He's been interviewed on radio programs in New York; Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; San Diego; Portland; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Vermont.
He's also done television interviews that were on the CBS Evening News, MSNBC and ABC-TV, and he will appear on Fox News next week.
Newspapers around the world have run stories about him. The Associated Press interviewed him for a story earlier this week.
The weirdest thing Voigt's heard?
"People have asked me about what my potato diet does to my libido," he said.
While Voigt didn't comment on that, he did say the diet is "a bold statement about nutrition."
"I felt I needed to send a signal out to the public and USDA saying: 'There's a lot of misinformation out there. Let's do a reality check here,'" he said.
Part of the reason for the diet is to bring attention to the fact that potatoes are not included in the federal Women, Infants and Children voucher program, which is known as WIC. WIC officials have said the potato is not included because its participants already consume enough potatoes.
Voigt doesn't want the diet viewed as a protest.
"I want it to be based on science," he said. "I just want the folks at USDA and the Institute of Medicine to really examine the nutritional content of the potato before they make a decision, because I don't feel they have at this point."
In the second month of his diet, he intends to work harder to ensure he sticks to his 20 potato-a-day allotment, noting his busy schedule and the feeling of fullness made it hard to stick to it during the first month.
David Fairbourn, manager of industry communications and policy for the United States Potato Board, said Voigt's objective mirrors that of the board, which aims to champion the potato's nutritional value.
"He's taking a fun approach to draw attention to the many good things about potatoes," he said.
"We really have a dedicated individual working for us who has gone above and beyond in his job-the personal sacrifices made to bring this issue to the forefront," Othello, Wash., potato farmer Chris Olsen said. "The personal dedication of Mr. Voigt is pretty impressive."
Olsen monitors Voigt's progress online and calls to touch base with him. He hopes to see Voigt's diet translate into increased awareness of the nutritional content in potatoes.
Olsen said he might consider a similar diet.
"I don't know that I would go for 60 days," he said. "I'd probably only make it 30, but ..."
Voigt hopes the diet also encourages consumers to look at the nutritional value of potatoes.
"There is more to a potato than just starch," he said. "You're not going to get fat because you're eating potatoes."
Source, Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, October 28, 2010