| 12.4°C Dublin

Humble spud hasn't had its chips just yet

Some of the reasons given at the IFA National Potato Conference (yes, that exists!) this week were perceptions that potatoes are fattening, a hassle to cook and less chic than pasta, couscous and rice.

At a time when it looks like we are accelerating towards environmental disaster and our pivotal cultural moment for 2014 is a few Garth Brooks concerts, this is news I just didn't need to hear.

What's so wrong with the potato? How did this natural, unprocessed food, full of goodness and grown in abundance here, become such a pariah? Isn't it part of who we are?

Sniping at the spud is nothing new. The French were at it as soon as Walter Raleigh brought the potato from the New World (along with cigarettes and slaves).

French critics judged it as the "infernal root vegetable" only fit for the "lower orders". But the lower orders loved it, no more so than in Ireland, where it became the staple diet of our enslaved population.

Even the Famine couldn't diminish its popularity, a testament both to our tolerance for suffering and our lack of imagination.

Every day I meet Irish people who wouldn't eat fish if they were starving, yet will load up on fatty meat and spuds like their life depended on it.

But the potato is irresistible – despite the French disdain for spuds, didn't they come up with pomme frittes? (OK, I know it was the Belgians, but let's not split hairs, especially when it was later 'translated' into french fries.)

You see that's the wonderful thing about the potato – the amount of ways they can be cooked.

Pasta is pasta, rice is rice. Fine in their own way, but nothing compared to the floury spud drenched in butter as part of a solid northern European dinner.


Although that's a problem – the spud by itself is harmless – it's the addition of oil and butter that transforms it into something unhealthy.

And that's probably the perception of Irish health fascists – that they are turning to couscous and rice because they think that they are healthier.

Also, it makes them feel not-Irish, a condition half of our population veer towards, especially when they see what 'Irishness' sometimes entails – an unquestioning devotion to Garth Brooks and the enjoyment of tales of woe at any time of the day or night.

But don't throw the potato out with the bathwater. What's next? Non-alcoholic Guinness? Non-contact GAA?

I'm not saying these are the things that totally represent us, but I often think that replacing the potato with quinoa is like replacing the Book of Kells with 50 Shades of Grey. It's highly popular for a while, but you couldn't do it every day. And your granny wouldn't like it.

In the end it's all about choice, market forces, and all that rubbish, though I have doubts the humble potato will ever disappear.

Once again our infamous ability to drink will save the day. I've never heard of hitting a couscous stand after a night out, have you?