Potatoes are Behind

Published in the May 2012 Issue Published online: May 09, 2012 Tyler J. Baum, Editor
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At times, it appears to be a very hostile environment in America for growing food. While there are countries in the world with people who experience true poverty-where people are actually starving and living day-to-day to survive-our prosperity has put us in a position that those who don't understand or appreciate what got us here are driven to biting the hand that feeds us-because the hand is making us fat.

Over the past few decades, countless foods have become demonized by the latest science as "bad for you," while others have been praised like dietary saviors. But then as science tides ebb and flow, we're eventually told completely different things about those same foods-even polar opposites.

The potato industry is now on trial. And we're behind.

Maureen Storey, Vice President and CEO of the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE), explained to board members at the United States Potato Board Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs, Colo., in March, what the fledgling organization is doing with partial support from the USPB to influence the influencers.

Storey, who took over as CEO in June, spoke about how APRE, the National Potato Council and the USPB are working together, the lessons learned when businesses either don't pay attention to science or ignore the science in front of them, and the current landscape of potatoes. While there is overlap with the three organizations, the focus of APRE is primarily influencers of consumers on the topic of nutrition-such as registered dieticians, medical doctors and science and health writers.

She says we have some challenges ahead, but we're up to it.

Storey recapped the nearly 30-year saga the egg industry went through, from being considered in 1984 as a cause of heart attacks to something in 2011 consumers should eat. She says it took almost 30 years for an industry not invested in turning things around to turn things around.

Pointing out how vocal potato critics are-most prominently, Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health-"The bottom line is, compared to almonds, eggs and soft drinks, potatoes are behind. The scientific literature is really very light with regard to potatoes and french fries. And our critics have a head start on us."

She cited a few studies that have been done, but points out that more studies are needed. Among the studies, the idea that consumption of green and yellow vegetables will magically increase when potatoes are eliminated-which was accepted enough by the USDA to once consider limiting potatoes in school lunches to one cup per week-is a myth. The consumption of green and yellow vegetables does not increase when potatoes are removed. She also cited another study that shows fries only make up 1.5 percent of calories people consume-most calories come from "grain-based desserts," such as cookies, pies and cakes.

If you just think about it, most of the time people eat fries when they've got a calorie-laden burger as a meal companion and a large, high fructose corn syrup-filled soda to wash it all down. And yet fries have become the poster child for foods that will make you obese and ultimately kill you.

APRE's focus is the Dietary Guideline for Americans, published by the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services every five years. (The latest edition was published in 2010.) Storey also says APRE's goal is to keep potatoes on USDA's MyPlate strictly as a vegetable, not a starchy vegetable.

Their website, launched in April, is www.apre.org.