The Intriguing and Precarious Story of YamTato Gate 2K16
How a vegetable changed my perspective on love and life
One Sunday evening as I preheated my oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and mindlessly chatted with my housemate about something trivial like avocados or Mario Kart, my phone started ringing.
It was my friend. Her name is Callie.* (*=Her name is not Callie.) This was no casual check-in or a no-questions-asked request to meet me at the closest Chipotle. This was important.
She called to talk about a boy. Often times, they do. So we did just that: We talked about a boy but we also talked about most boys and all boys. Because for some reason it’s impossible to talk about one boy without drawing parallels between them all — at least the ones who have shown up throughout your life, who have walked through it, left or stayed.
As she detailed the particular conversation to me — in which she asked a boy when he had time to engage in a dialogue that was deeply important to her — I wrapped two orange-on-the-inside, brown on-the-outside, oval-shaped vegetables in aluminum foil and set them on a pan.
She had asked him to show up for her and he kind of didn’t. Instead, he metaphorically said “namaste,” and wished her well on her merry way. (This is the exchange in my words, not hers. She may feel differently.)
I arranged my sweet potatoes in the oven. Forty-five minutes later, we were still on the phone, the timer beeping, signaling the potatoes were done.
On speaker phone, my friend asked my help crafting a response back to his not-so-supportive last text.
“Is it weird if I decorate my baked potato with hot sauce?” I muttered.
She kept on.
“I don’t think this baked potato is cooked enough. It can’t be done,” I whispered.
She kept on.
“Wow, this thing is like, ridiculously hard to cut,” I mumbled.
Soon, our frequent giggles were punctuated with more conversation about my baked potatoes than her boy drama. I’m having a really hard time here, I remember thinking. And then: Sudden clarity.
This is not a sweet potato, I thought in a transcendent, epiphany-like fever that reduced me to a cold sweat. I just knew: This is a yam.
“Confession,” I said to my sniggering friend. “When I went to the grocery store, the crate from which I grabbed these sweet potatoes was labeled ‘yams.’ But I figured it was mislabeled seeing as they looked like sweet potatoes. But it appears, in fact, that this is actually a yam.”
“Despite my treating it as if it were a potato, it appears to still, in fact, be a yam.”
“Let me get this straight, Stephanie. You went into a grocery store, saw a crate labeled ‘yams,’ and decided they were sweet potatoes, regardless?”
I blinked a couple of times. “Yes.”
At exactly the same point in time, we both realized what a disgustingly transparent metaphor this was for our entire lives: dating and beyond.
These boys, they tell us upfront exactly what they are. Yet we assign them a different identity anyway.
“I’m just a friend.” Nope. You will be my boyfriend.
“I’m boyfriend material.” Nope. You are friend zoned.
“I’m just a fuck buddy.” Nope. You will be my boyfriend.
“I am a yam.” Nope. You will be a sweet potato.
Why? Because I wanted a sweet potato. And it fucking looked like one.
Despite a clear-as-day sign, I was so irrefutably disillusioned into thinking a yam was a sweet potato, I baked it as such. I cut it like a sweet potato, though it was nearly impossible. I tore at it with my fork, conveniently perplexed as to why it was the wrong texture, much too hard…
Thus began #YamTato2016, the hashtag no one on the Internet understood except us, which was also simultaneously the hashtag that encompassed my entire love life within its 12 characters.
I sent a picture of the YamTato I was currently dousing in hot sauce to several of my friends, begging for confirmation. None could verify. I Googled “sweet potato emoji,” to aid my hysterical-yet-borderline-terrified tweets. “VALIDATION!” I said aloud. This unknown vegetable emoji is actually a sweet potato, Google had confirmed… My validation only to be shattered 0.5 seconds later when I then Googled “yam emoji” and the same purple and yellow emoticon surfaced, identifying itself also as such.
Was the entire world confused beyond repair about the differences between yams and sweet potatoes? I searched “how to tell the difference…” and a video with cartoon characters illustrated how yams had abs and lifted weights made of olives, while sweet potatoes were fat fucks who craved pizza.
Confirmed: The entire human population was confused.
What did this mean about me? I thought with the same mystified fervor the man who once shouted about a double-rainbow exuded. YamTato, what does it mean?!?!?!
It means I ignored one of Maya Angelou’s most important quotes:
“When people show you who they are, believe them.”
I looked at what was clearly a yam and I had forced it to be a sweet potato because that’s what I had wanted. But it wasn’t. And maybe my friend was looking at a boy who stated himself as just a friend and thinking she could make him a boyfriend. I don’t know if that’s true; that’s between them. (And frankly, I don’t think it’s true. I think there’s more between them than friendship.)
But it seemed to present quite the undeniable parallel in what can only be described as an intensely cosmic moment.
It’s not just her. Because I do truly think her and that boy could be something. It’s not just me either. It’s all of us. It’s humanity, maybe.
Yams tell us they’re yams but we’re fucking hell-bent on making them sweet potatoes.
If ever there was a metaphor for the fucked-up way in which I have been operating, this is it. People will show you who they really are. Right? I don’t think Maya Angelou was just shooting in the dark here. This is a very real observation that we often times conveniently forget to observe. Maybe it’s time I start listening and looking, instead of covering my ears, only hearing the good parts, and overlooking all of the negative.
Maybe it’s time I stop remembering sitting in the Civic in the school parking lot in August, tickling you while Eric Church played. Maybe I should start remembering how you broke up with me five minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve despite having had sex with me just an hour prior.
How you dropped me off in my sister’s driveway as the ball dropped. How she missed celebrating with her husband and kids because she was standing on the porch, watching me collapse-walk up the stairs in tears, as you peeled onto the road mercilessly.
Maybe it’s time I stop remembering running out in the sheeting rain toward the car. You had given me your purple hoodie. Sitting in silence for an hour, both of us watching the clock as it ticked toward my impending curfew with every second. Listening to Blue Foundation. Listening to Ben E. King. Maybe it’s time I start remembering how you drove an hour to my house post-breakup because you said you finally wanted to be friends, only to reveal once you arrived that “being friends” was code for also sleeping with me.
Maybe it’s time I start remembering the right stuff and not just the good stuff.
Because you showed me who you were. Multiple times. And I didn’t believe you.
I still cut you like a fucking sweet potato. And I just realized you’re a yam.
(Side note: It is exceptionally difficult to find stock images of either yams or sweet potatoes.)
Disclaimer: I still have no idea if the vegetable in the above cover photo is a yam or sweet potato. I searched ‘sweet potato’ to get it, but as far as my limited vegetable knowledge goes, it is cut in the above photo like a yam.
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Stephanie is a social media editor in the magazine industry and blogs about all things lifestyle at StephOsmanski.com. Her words have been featured onSeventeen, USA Today, Parents, J-14, HelloFlo, Hollywood, and more.