Potato — and a Lesson Worth Learning
A brief history of the potato
Around 12,000 BC the agricultural revolution ignited. The hunter-gatherers moved to a much safer way of providing sustenance. They farmed crops. They herd animals for livestock like goats and oxen. More and more variety of crops were farmed such as peas, lentils, and barley. As humans gain more knowledge in agriculture, people become reliant on fields and their harvest.
Yet not until after two millennia from the shift from hunting to farming did the magic crop — potato — begun to be cultivated. They were first grown by the Inca Indians in Peru. It was a primary food in the empire and the people had many dishes of it. One particularly was prepared by freeze-drying which can last for several years, thus a perfect food to be carried by the army.
Fast forward in 1526, Spanish conquerors, led by Francisco Pizarro, arrived on the shores of the country. The foreigners, having taste and discovered the healthful crop, carried and introduced it to their own land — Europe — in the ensuing years.
However, potatoes struggled in becoming a widely accepted food and staple in the rich land it set foot in. Simply, Europeans didn’t like the potato. In some countries although, like Ireland, potatoes rapidly became a major staple. But in many countries of the continent, the potato was extremely disliked. In Italy, the potato was food only for the cattle and sometimes to the starving poor. People were said to be suspicious of potatoes. One Swiss botanist by the name Caspar Bauhin, in 1596, theorized that eating potatoes caused flatulence, lust, and leprosy. Illness was constituted in potato that the French banned planting it. People also sometimes referred to it as the “devil’s apple” and claimed it was used by witches in conducting spells.
Moreover, the Europeans didn’t like the idea of eating food from the inferior civilization in South America. They viewed eating potatoes as similar to degrading one’s self and coming down to the level of slaves. The odd look and unlikable shape of the potato also contributed to why was it declined. It looked much inedible and unappetizing.
Even almost two centuries after, the dislike of potatoes didn’t subside. It continued to become a neglected food. When King Fredric II of Prussia, in 1774, tried to urge his people to grow potatoes to help combat hunger in times of famine (constantly due to war), the townspeople responded: “The things have neither smell nor taste, not even the dogs will eat them, so what use are they to us?”
But the king, was a huge advocate of potato knowing its many benefits. He wanted to end the stigma and want people to finally accept the invalidated crop. The great King, realizing that potato had a low chance of becoming valued by his people thereby not even close to being planted what more eaten, devised a plan — an ingenious and a psychological one — to convince them. He ordered his soldiers to guard a particular potato field 24/7. It aroused curiosity from the townsfolk seeing a field warded by troops. As a result, people tried to know what was so valuable in that yard that it was guarded all day. Soon after, villagers tried to sneak in at night to unravel the thing in the field. The king advised his guards not to be so harsh to the visitors and act as if they don’t notice so that more may try to come. Digging in and pulling potatoes from the soil, the furtive bandits were surprised. They soon sensed that the crop was for real of great value beyond its unappealing look. Thereafter people started to cultivate their own potato fields.
In France, on the other hand, while the potato was still prohibited, Antoine-Augustine Parmentier, a pharmacist and another strong advocate of the potato, was doing all his might to convince his countrymen that potato is beneficial rather than dangerous. He was confident that the crop is beneficial for when he was imprisoned for several years, he only had potato for nutriment, and after the confinement, he had seen no health or body deterioration. He proceeded to study nutritional chemistry to decipher the mysteries of the crop and found he was indeed correct. He later successfully convinced the Paris Faculty of Medicine to declare potatoes as edible and consequently induce his compatriots to consume them.
The nourishing crop gained traction. Countries realized its importance in sustenance. Families began to see potatoes as the answer to the ever-common problem of day-to-day life — hunger. Every available field was planted with potatoes and people happily harvested and dined on, making it the primary staple of land. It became essential. Consequently, famines were ended in most nations and health improved through proper nutrition.
A cheap, healthful, lasting, and easy-to-grow crop became an ideal source of energy especially to the working class who built the riches our civilization relish today. The potato became the main fuel to people who were busy building the foundations of our very society. Some historians argue that without the high-protein and carbohydrates crop, medieval societies could have not been able to prosper to become the modern world it is today. The potato was vital for economic growth. It was the battery for the industrial revolution.
Today, potato is extensively ubiquitous. You can see it in restaurants as fries; in stores as chips, and in our own kitchens as fresh. There are now countless dishes of potato, from the most simple down to the most elaborate. Global production in our modern time is incomparable to the production of it in the previous century. In 2019, the global potato output reached more than 370 million metric tons. On average, one person consumes about 110 pounds of potato each year.
We can conclude that the journey of potatoes from being neglected to becoming one of the most in-demand and valuable crops in the world, is a story of success. But truly it is a typical story of success. There is no easy way to triumphant the potato might say. And indeed there’s no paved path, all are rocky, spiky, windy, toilsome, exhausting, and arduous. The path is full of rejection and unpleasantness. This is no surprise, we already know it because the majority of us are still on the road.
But the real important — and so relevant — moral the potato can teach us, is that we need not look perfect. Our modern society is so obsessed with the idea of enameled image. We are pressured to look brilliant to get attention. To have a vibrant, attractive, and the appealing front is the way to success. Yet many appear only well garnished from the surface, with no real remarkable glaze inside.
Not making an effort to look upgraded in the display can seem like an idle campaign. But if we learn from the journey of potatoes, we can hope that we’ll be recognized and get the attention we deserve, however, only from the people not ignorant enough to deserve us. We need not please others and seek acknowledgment. We’ll get to shine on our time. What we need to do is work on the points that really matter, the skills, wisdom, efficiency, which although may go unnoticed today, will surely be acknowledged tomorrow.
Only the knowledgeable and wise enough can benefit from our value. We should not burden ourselves with finding them, instead, let them come. Our sensible Parmentier and Fredrick will arrive. We will be recognized and our value will be realized. We’ll become an indispensable asset, without us around they shall feel incapacitated, feel empty, and be weak to progress.