- Potatoes (White)
chapter presents the paradoxical history of the potato (Solanum
tuberosum) in human food systems. It is now the fourth most
important world food crop, surpassed only by wheat, rice, and
maize. In five centuries, this diverse and adaptable tuber has
spread from its original South American heartland in the high
Andes to all elevation zones in temperate regions of all the continents,
and, lately, its production has been increasing most rapidly in
the warm, humid, tropical Asian lowlands during the dry season
(Vander Zaag 1984).
the course of its history, the potato adapted, and was adopted,
as a highland subsistence crop on all continents. In Europe, it
was originally an antifamine food but then became a staple. In
Africa and Asia, it has been a vegetable or costaple crop. The
potato has been credited with fueling the Industrial Revolution
in eighteenth-century Europe but blamed for the midnineteenth-century
Irish famine. Over three centuries, it also became a central and
distinctive element of European regional, and then national, cuisines.
Although "late blight" has continued to plague those
dependent on potatoes for sustenance (CIP 1994), the potatos
popularity has nevertheless grown since the end of World War II,
particularly in its forms of standardized industrially produced
potato fries, chips, and other frozen and processed "convenience"
foods. Acceptance of standard fries (with burgers) and packaged
the "globalization of diet," as McDonalds, Pepsico,
and other transnational food firms move potatoes around
the world yet another time in their successful creation and marketing
of a universal taste for these products.
In addition, the 1972 creation of an International Potato Center
(CIP) in Lima, Peru, with its regional networks, has greatly accelerated
the introduction of improved potato varieties and supporting technologies
throughout the developing world.
N. Salamans monumental volume charted The History and
Social Influence of the Potato (1949) a book that was
edited and reprinted in 1985 by J. G. Hawkes, who updated archaeological
and agronomic histories and then subsequently issued his own study
(Hawkes 1990). The archaeological evidence for the origins of
potato domestication is still fragmentary (for example, Hawkes
1990). However, collections, characterizations, and taxonomies
of both wild and cultivated forms (Ochoa 1962; Huaman 1983; Hawkes
and Hjerting 1989) continue to progress and are generating conclusions
about evolutionary relationships that can now be tested with additional
cytoplasmic and molecular data from crossability trials (Grun
1990). Such conclusions can also be tested by complementary ethnohistorical,
social historical, and culinary historical data (Coe 1994).
biological and cultural histories are recounted in several volumes
by CIP (CIP 1984; Horton and Fano 1985; Horton 1987; Woolfe 1987),
which also issues an Annual Report and a Potato Atlas.
Key breeding and agronomic advances are also reported in The
Potato Journal, American Potato Journal, European Potato Journal,
Potato Research, Proceedings of the Potato Association of America,
and reports by the potato marketing boards of major producing
countries. All are contributing to worldwide understanding and
utilization of potatoes, which exhibit perhaps the greatest amount
of biodiversity of any major food crop (Hawkes and Hjerting 1989:
3), with matching cultural diversity in food and nonfood uses.
in South America:
Origins and Diffusion
potatoes all belong to one botanical species, Solanum tuberosum,
but it includes thousands of varieties that vary by size, shape,
color, and other sensory characteristics. The potato originated
in the South American Andes, but its heartland of wild genetic
diversity reaches from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia,
Argentina, and Chile across the Pampa and Chaco regions of Argentina,
Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil and northward into Central
America, Mexico, and the southwestern United States. There are
more than 200 wild potato species in this wide habitat that extends
from high cold mountains and plateaus into warmer valleys and
subtropical forests and drier semiarid intermontane basins and
greatest diversity in wild potato species occurs in the Lake Titicaca
region of Peru and Bolivia, where the potato probably was domesticated
between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago. Solanum tuberosum most
likely was domesticated from the wild diploid species S. stenotomum,
which then hybridized with S. sparsipilum or other wild
species to form the amphidiploid S. tuberosum that evolved
from the short-day northern Andean subspecies andigena,
via additional crosses with wild species, into the subspecies
tuberosum, which had a more southerly, longer-day distribution
(Grun 1990; Hawkes 1990). Frost resistance and additional pest
and disease resistance were introduced later via hybridizations
with additional wild species, which allowed potatoes to be grown
at altitudes up to 4,500 meters.
remains of possibly cultivated tubers found on a cave floor in
Chilca Canyon suggest that the potato was cultivated at least
from about 7,000 years ago, although it is not possible to tell
whether these were wild, "dump heap," or already garden
acquisitions (Ugent 1970). Potato remains (along with those of
sweet potato and manioc) from Ancon-Chillon (to the north of Lima)
date from 4,500 years ago; northern coastal remains from the site
of Casma date from between 4,000 and 3,500 years ago (Ugent et
al. 1982). It is surmised that cultivated varieties were being
planted on terraces at intermediate altitudes, extending from
the river valleys into the high mountains, by the middle initial
period between 4,000 and 3,500 years ago. Coastal remains from
the monumental preceramic site of El Paraiso (3,800 to 3,500 years
ago) suggest a mixed subsistence strategy, including unspecified
Solanum plants that might be potatoes (Quilter et al. 1991).
provides additional testimony for the potatos centrality
and for the antiquity of processed potatoes in pre-Columbian Andean
culture. Fresh and freeze-dried potatoes are depicted in ceramics
of the Moche people of northern Peru (A.D. 1 to 600), on urns
in Huari or Pacheco styles from the Nazca Valley (650 to 700),
and later Chimu-Inca pots (Hawkes 1990). Postcontact-period Inca
wooden beakers also depict potato plants and tubers.
American civilizations and states were based on vertically integrated
production and consumption systems that included seed crops (especially
maize, secondarily quinoa) at lower altitudes, potatoes and other
tubers at higher altitudes, and llamas (camelids) to transport
goods between zones. Hillside terracing conserved moisture and
soils and encouraged the selection of multiple cultivars of a
number of species that fit into closely spaced ecological niches.
Ridged, raised, or mounded fields (still used for potato cultivation
around Lake Titicaca) were a type of specialized field system
that saved moisture and also protected against frost. In addition
to making use of short-term storage in the ground, Andean peoples
stored potatoes in fresh or processed forms. Huanaco Viejo and
other Inca sites reveal extensive tuber storage areas, constructed
in naturally cool zones, where indigenous farmers (or their rulers)
stored whole tubers with carefully managed temperature, moisture,
and diffused light to reduce spoilage (Morris 1981). Traditional
freeze-drying techniques took advantage of night frosts, sunny
days, and running water at high elevation zones and allowed potatoes
to provide nourishment over long distances and multiple years,
as dehydrated potatoes moved from higher to lower altitudes, where
they were traded for grain and cloth.
As South American cultivators expanded into many closely spaced
microenvironmental niches, they selected for thousands of culturally
recognized potato varieties of differing sizes, colors, shapes,
and textures, with characteristics that provided adequate resistance
to pests, frost, and other stressors. At higher altitudes, cultivators
selected for bitter varieties of high alkaloid content that were
detoxified and rendered edible by freeze-drying (Johns 1990).
Culturally directed genetic diversification continues up to the
present, as Andean farmers allow wild specimens to grow and hybridize
with cultivars, conserving biodiversity while diffusing risk (Ugent
1970; Brush 1992).
botanical history of the cultivated potato is slowly being assembled
by considering together the findings from plant scientists
genetic and taxonomic studies, archaeologists interpretations
of archaeological and paleobotanical remains, and ethnographers
observations and analogies from contemporary farming, food processing,
and storage. Plant scientists continue to explore wild and cultivated
habitats in the potatos heartland, where they find wild
potato species that offer a tantalizing range of useful characteristics
to protect against frost; against fungal, viral, and bacterial
infections; and against nematodes and insects (for example, Ochoa
1962; Ochoa and Schmiediche 1983). Carnivorous, sticky-haired
species, such as Solanum berthaultii, devour their prey;
others repel them pheronomically by mimicking the scent of insects
under stress (Hawkes and Hjerting 1989).
into the botanical and archaeological data mix are culinary historians
insights from agricultural, botanical, lexical, and food texts.
Guaman Poma de Ayala, shortly after Spanish penetration, depicted
and described plow-hoe potato and maize cultivation in his chronicle
of the Incas (15831613) (Guaman Poma de Ayala 1936). Dictionaries
that record concepts of the sixteenth-century Aymara peoples from
Peru describe time intervals in terms of the time it took to cook
a potato (Coe 1994)!
peoples also developed detailed vocabularies to describe and classify
potatoes, as well as myths and rituals to celebrate the tubers
importance. Even after conversion to Catholicism, they continued
to use potatoes in their religious festivals; for example, garlands
of potatoes are used to decorate the image of the Virgin Mary
at the festival of the Immaculate Conception in Juli, Peru (Heather
Lechtman, personal communication).
use of potatoes has included the development of processing methods
to extend their nutritional availability and portability. In high
altitude zones, selected varieties undergo freezing, soaking,
and drying into a product called chuño that is without
unhealthful bitter glycoalkaloids, is light and easily transported,
and can be stored for several years. To render chuño
(freeze-dried potato), tubers are frozen at night, then warmed
in the sun (but shielded from direct rays). Next, they are trampled
to slough off skins and to squeeze out any residual water, and
then they are soaked in cold running water.
soaking for 1 to 3 weeks, the product is removed to fields and
sun-dried for 5 to 10 days, depending on the cloud cover and type
of potato. As these tubers dry, they form a white crust, for which
the product is labelled "white chuño"
(in contrast to "black chuño," which eliminates
the soaking step). Another processing method involves soaking
the tubers without prior freezing for up to a month, then boiling
them in this advanced stage of decay. R. Werge (1979) has commented
that the odor of this ripening process is "distinctive and
strong" and has noted that, as a rule, this product is consumed
where it is produced.
has a long history of provisioning both highland and lowland Andean
populations; it was described by early Spanish chroniclers (for
example, José de Acosta 1590) and also mentioned in accounts
of sixteenth-century mine rations, in which Spanish mine managers
complained about its high price. It is curious that one seventeenth-century
source mentioned chuño as a source of fine white
flour for cakes and other delicacies, although it was usually
considered to be a lower-class native food (Cobo 1653). Ordinarily,
chuño is rehydrated in soups and stews.
native product is papa seca ("dehydrated potato"),
for which tubers are boiled, peeled, cut into chunks, sun-dried,
and then ground into a starchy staple that is eaten with pork,
tomatoes, and onions. Papa seca is consumed more widely
than chuño in urban and coastal areas and can now
be purchased in supermarkets.
areas of frost, potatoes traditionally were also rendered into
starch. Traditional products, however, are in decline, as household
labor to produce them is now redirected toward higher-value cash
employment or schooling. In addition, such traditional products
tend to be thought of as inferior, "poor peasant" foods,
so that those with cash income and access to store-bought pasta
or rice consume these starches instead.
potato diversity, a byproduct of the insertion of higher-yielding
"improved" varieties into South American field systems,
is another reason for the fading of traditional potatoes and potato
products. Traditional Andean potato farmers sow together in a
single hole as many as 5 small tubers from different varieties
and even species, and keep up to 2 dozen named varieties from
3 or 4 species (Quiros et al. 1990; Brush 1992). A particular
concern has been whether genetic diversity erodes with the introduction
of modern varieties and greater integration of local farmers into
regional and national markets. Traditional varieties adapted to
lower altitudes (where 75 percent of modern varieties are planted)
are at greater risk than those of more mountainous terrains, which
are less suited to the cultivation of irrigated, marketable, new
varieties. So far, ethnographic investigations do not confirm
the conventional wisdom that modern varieties generally compete
successfully and eliminate traditional races. Although changes
in cropping strategies allocate more land to new, improved varieties,
thus reducing the amount of land allocated to traditional varieties,
the midaltitude regions that grow modern varieties intensively
tend also to devote small areas to older varieties that farmers
maintain to meet ritual, symbolic, or preferential local food
needs (Rhoades 1984; Brush 1992). In these commercial production
zones, the land area allocated to traditional varieties appears
to vary with income, with better-off households more likely to
maintain larger plots.
production of certain native varieties is actually encouraged
by market opportunities. On-farm conservation of potato biodiversity
has therefore been favored by the economics of particular native
as well as introduced potato varieties, by vertical biogeography,
and by persistent cultural customs calling for multiple traditional
varieties (Brush, Taylor, and Bellon 1992), and there remains
a large amount of as-yet unexploited population variability encoded
in folk taxonomies (Quiros et al. 1990). Uniform sowings of improved
varieties tend to replace older varieties only in the best-irrigated,
midaltitude areas, where farmers harvest and sell an early crop
and thus enjoy higher returns for the "new" potatoes.
Traditional varietal mixes, however, continue to be grown in higher
elevation zones where more extreme and risky environments encourage
farmers to propagate a larger variety of them. But unless on-farm
conservation programs are encouraged, it may only be a matter
of time before erosion occurs.
farmers ethnotaxonomies ("folk classifications")
continue to be studied by anthropologists and plant scientists
to learn more about the ways in which traditional peoples recognize
and organize plant information. These folk classifications, in
most instances, recognize more distinctions than those captured
by modern botanical taxonomies, and they also indicate the high
value traditional peoples put on maintaining crop species biodiversity
as a strategy to reduce risk of total crop failures. The more
plant scientists improve their ability to understand the molecular
biology, cytology, biochemistry, and genetics of the potato, the
more they return to this traditional, natural, and cultural heartland
to collect ancient wild and cultivated types and cultural knowledge
about how to use potatoes.
addition, traditional peoples developed ways to store and process
potatoes, so that their availability could be extended greatly
in time and over space. Agricultural and food scientists, in studying
archaeological evidence of cold storage bins (Morris 1981) and
contemporary practices (Rhoades 1984), have adopted and disseminated
techniques, such as diffused lighting for storage areas and freeze-drying,
as ways to increase the potatos food value in other parts
of the world. This return to indigenous knowledge at a time of
international diffusion of modern molecular technologies is one
paradoxical dimension of the potatos history.
Spanish explorers, who first observed the potato in Peru, Bolivia,
Colombia, and Ecuador, compared the unfamiliar tuber food crop
to truffles and adopted the Quechua name, papa. The first
specimens, arguably short-day S. tuberosum ssp. andigena
forms from Colombia, probably reached Spain around 1570. From
there, the potato spread via herbalists and farmers to Italy,
the Low Countries, and England, and there was likely a second
introduction sometime in the following twenty years. Sir Francis
Drake, on his round-the-world voyage (1577 to 1580), recorded
an encounter with potatoes off the Chilean coast in 1578, for
which British and Irish folklore credits him with having introduced
the potato to Great Britain. But this could not have been the
case because the tubers would not have survived the additional
two years at sea. All European potato varieties in the first 250
years were derived from the original introductions, which constituted
a very narrow gene pool that left almost all potatoes vulnerable
to devastating viruses and fungal blights by the midnineteenth
century. S. tuberosum ssp. tuberosum varieties,
introduced from Chile into Europe and North America in the 1800s,
represented an ill-fated attempt to widen disease resistance and
may actually have introduced the fungus Phytophthora infestans,
or heightened vulnerability to it. This was the microbe underlying
the notorious nineteenth-century Irish crop failures and famine.
potatos initial spread across Europe seems to have involved
a combination of Renaissance scientific curiosity and lingering
medieval medical superstition. Charles de lEcluse or Clusius
of Antwerp, who received two tubers and a fruit in 1588 from Philippe
de Sivry of Belgium, is credited with introducing the plant to
fellow gardeners in Germany, Austria, France, and the Low Countries
(Arber 1938). The Swiss botanist Caspar Bauhin first described
the potato in his Phytopinax (1596) and named it Solanum
tuberosum esculentum. He correctly assigned the potato to
the nightshade family (Solanum) but otherwise provided a highly
stylized, rather than scientific, drawing (1598) and gossiped
that potatoes caused wind and leprosy (probably because they looked
like leprous organs) and "incited Venus" (that is, aroused
sexual desire), a characterization that led to folkloric names
such as "Eves apple" or "earths testicles."
Such unhealthful or undesirable characteristics probably contributed
to potatoes being avoided in Burgundy (reported in John Gerards
The Herball, 1597) and in other parts of Europe. As a result
of such persistent negative folklore, the introduction of the
potato, a crop recognized by European leaders to have productive
and nutritive capacities superior to those of cereal grains (particularly
in cold and dry regions), was stymied for years in Germany and
whose printed illustration in his Herball of 1597
provided the first lifelike picture of the potato plant, depicting
leaves, flowers, and tubers (the plate was revised with careful
observation in the later edition of 1633) appears to have
been fascinated by the plant, even wearing a potato flower as
his boutonniere in the books frontispiece illustration.
But he also obscured the true origins of Solanum tuberosum
by claiming to have received the tubers from "Virginia, otherwise
called Norembega," and therefore naming them "potatoes
of Virginia." The inaccurate name served to distinguish this
potato from the "common potato," Batata hispanorum
("Spanish potato") or Ipomoea batatas ("sweet
potato"). Additionally, "Virginia" at the time
served the English as a generic label for plants of New World
(as opposed to European) origin. The Oxford English Dictionary
contains an entry labeling maize as "Virginia wheat,"
although it makes no reference to Gerards "potato from
Gerard may have confused a tuber truly indigenous to Virginia,
Glycine apios or Apios tuberosa, with the Solanum
potato after sowing both tubers together and then attributing
an English origin to the tuber of greater significance in order
to please his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth (Salaman 1985; Coe 1994).
In any case, the false designation and folklore persisted into
the next century, by which time potatoes had entered the agricultural
economy of Ireland. A legend of Ireland credits the potatos
introduction to the wreck of the Spanish Armada (1588), which
washed some tubers ashore (Davidson 1992). Whatever its origins,
William Salmon, in his herbal of 1710, distinguished this "Irish"
(or "English") potato from the sweet potato, and "Irish
potato" became the name by which "white" (as opposed
to "sweet") potatoes were known in British colonies.
and Nineteenth-Century Diffusions
original short-day, late-yielding varieties illustrated in Gerards
and other herbals had by the eighteenth century been replaced
by farmers selections for early-maturing varieties that
were better suited to the summer day length and climate of the
British Isles. The new varieties superior yield of calories
per unit of land made subsistence possible for small farmers who
had lost land and gleaning rights with the rise of scientific
agriculture and the practice of enclosure. Potatoes also provided
a new, cheap food source for industrial workers; Salaman (1949),
William McNeill (1974), and Henry Hobhouse (1986) were among the
historians who saw the potato as having encouraged the rapid rise
of population that brought with it the Industrial Revolution.
also spread across Italy and Spain. The Hospital de la Sangre
in Seville recorded purchases of potatoes among its provisions
as early as 1573 (Hawkes and Francisco-Ortega 1992). By 1650,
potatoes were a field crop in Flanders, and they had spread northward
to Zeeland by 1697, to Utrecht by 1731, to Overijssel by 1746,
and to Friesland by 1765. In some high-altitude areas, they were
originally adopted as an antifamine food, but the harsh winter
of 1740, which caused damage to other crops, hastened potato planting
everywhere. By 1794, the tubers had been accepted as an element
of the Dutch national dish, a hot pot of root vegetables (Davidson
1992). Toward the end of the eighteenth century, potatoes had
become a field crop in Germany, which saw especially large quantities
produced after famine years, such as those from 1770 to 1772 and
again in 1816 and 1817. Their popularity was increased not only
by natural disasters (especially prolonged periods of cold weather)
but also by the disasters of wars, because the tubers could be
kept in the ground, where stores were less subject to looting
and burning by marauding armies.
advantages were not lost on such European leaders as Frederick
the Great, who, in 1774, commanded that potatoes be grown as a
hedge against famine. Very soon afterward, however, potatoes proved
to be not so safe in time of war. The War of the Bavarian Succession
(1778 to 1779), nicknamed the Kartoffelkrieg ("potato
war"), found soldiers living off the land, digging potatoes
from the fields as they ravaged the countryside. The war ceased
once the tuber supply had been exhausted (Nef 1950).
war in Germany unintentionally provided the catalyst for popularization
of the potato in France. A French pharmacist, A. A. Parmentier,
had been a German prisoner of war and forced to subsist on potatoes.
He survived and returned to Paris, where he championed the tuber
as an antifamine food. His promotional campaign saw Marie Antoinette
with potato flowers in her hair and King Louis XVI wearing them
as boutonnieres. But widespread potato consumption in France still
had to wait another century because, at a time when bread and
soup were the French dietary staples, potato starch added to wheat
flour produced an unacceptably soggy bread that was too moist
to sop up the soup (Wheaton 1983). Widespread utilization of the
whole potato in soup or as fries did not occur until well into
the following century; even at the time of Jean François
Millets famous "Potato Planters" painting (1861),
many French people still considered potatoes unfit for humans
or even animals to eat (Murphy 1984).
the middle eighteenth through nineteenth centuries, potatoes finally
spread across central and eastern Europe into Russia. At the end
of the seventeenth century, Tsar Peter the Great had sent a sack
of potatoes home, where their production and consumption were
promoted first by the Free Economic Society and, a century later,
by government land grants. But "Old Believers" continued
to reject potatoes as "Devils apples" or "forbidden
fruit of Eden," so that as late as 1840, potatoes were still
resisted. When, in that year, the government ordered peasants
to grow potatoes on common land, they responded with "potato
riots" that continued through 1843, when the coercive policy
ceased. But, in the next half-century, the potatos obvious
superiority to most grain crops and other tubers encouraged its
wider growth, first as a garden vegetable and then, as it became
a dietary staple, as a field crop (Toomre 1992).
Influence of the Potato
writers credited the potato with the virtual elimination of famine
by the early nineteenth century, without necessarily giving the
credit to state political and economic organization and distribution
systems (Crossgrove et al. 1990; Coe 1994). Larger-scale potato
production subsequently provided surpluses that supported a rise
of population in both rural agricultural and urban industrial
areas. Potatoes were adopted widely because they grew well in
most climates, altitudes, and soils and were more highly productive
than grains in both good years and bad. During the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, selection for earliness and yield gave
rise to clones that were better adapted to European temperate,
longer-summer-day growing conditions and could be harvested earlier.
By the end of the eighteenth century, many varieties were in existence,
some specified for human consumption, others as food for animals
(Jellis and Richardson 1987). Agricultural workers across Europe
increasingly grew potatoes on small allotments to provide food
that was cheaper than wheat bread and also inexpensive fodder
in the form of substandard tubers. Grains and potatoes, together
with the flesh and other products of a few farm animals, provided
an economically feasible and nutritionally adequate diet.
less an authority than Adam Smith, in An Inquiry into the Nature
and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), estimated that
agricultural land allocated to potatoes yielded three times the
food utrient value of land planted with wheat, so that more people
could be maintained on a given quantity of land. Even after workers
were fed and the stock replaced, more surplus was left for the
landlord. Favorably contrasting the nourishment and healthfulness
of potatoes with that of wheat, Smith noted:
chairmen, porters, and coalheavers in London, and those unfortunate
women who live by prostitution, the strongest men and the most
beautiful women perhaps in the British dominions, are said to
be, the greatest part of them, from the lowest rank of people
in Ireland, who are generally fed with the root.
single outstanding disadvantage of the potato was that stocks
could not be stored or carried over from year to year because
the tubers rotted (Smith 1776, Volume 1, Book 1, Chapter 11, Part
this time, potatoes were also providing cheap food for growing
industrial populations. Low-cost provisions enabled industrialists
to keep wages low (Salaman 1985). Indeed, in both rural and urban
areas, more than three centuries of resistance to potatoes was
overcome. The tuber had been variously regarded as poisonous,
tasteless, hard to digest, and an aphrodisiac; some thought of
it as pig food, others as famine food or food for the poor, but
such prejudices gradually faded as potatoes became the most affordable
food staple. Yet, at the same time, the growth of a potato-dependent
population in Ireland elicited dire predictions of calamity (by
Thomas Malthus, for one), for potatoes were already proving vulnerable
to various diseases. Dependent populations were especially at
risk because potatoes could neither be stored for more than a
few months nor be easily transported into areas of famine, and
because those within such populations tended to be politically
powerless and economically exploited. For all these reasons, although
Ireland suffered a devastating blight that ruined the potato crop
from 1845 to 1848, it might accurately be said that the Irish
famine was a man-made disaster that could have been prevented
or mitigated by timely British emergency relief and greater noblesse
oblige on the part of better-off Irish countrymen.
history of the potato in Ireland has been summarized by C. Woodham-Smith
(1962), A. Bourke (1993), and C. Kinealy (1995), among others.
Such accounts trace the way in which the potato, along with the
"conacre" system of land and labor allocation and the
"lazy-bed" system of potato cultivation, came to dominate
Irish agriculture as British landlords made less and less land
and time available for their Irish workers self-provisioning.
The advent of more scientifically based agriculture and the enclosure
of common lands had left many landless by the end of the eighteenth
century. The "conacre" custom (or economy) allowed landless
peasants to rent small plots for 11-month periods in return for
agricultural services to the landlord. Peasants managed to feed
themselves on such minuscule holdings by setting up raised "lazy"
beds in which they placed tubers, then covered them with manure,
seaweed, and additional soil to protect them from moisture.
yields of potatoes were 6 tons per acre, in contrast with less
than 1 ton per acre for wheat or oats. In 1845, the potato crop
occupied 2 million acres, and a 13.6 million ton harvest was anticipated,
of which slightly less than half would have gone to humans. But
grains were higher-value crops, and expansion of roads into the
hinterlands during the early decades of the nineteenth century
meant that grains could be more easily transported than they previously
had been. Thus, values for (grain) export agriculture rose and
competed more fiercely with subsistence crops for land. Conacres
shrank, and many workers migrated seasonally to Scotland for the
harvest, thereby reducing consumption at home and earning additional
money for food. This was
yet another route by which the potato and its associated social
institutions "fed" the industrial economy (Vincent 1995).
blight" (Phytophthora infestans), having ravaged potato
crops in North America, disrupted this highly vulnerable agroeconomic
and social context in the 1840s. The blight first appeared in
late July 1845 in the Low Countries, spreading from there to England
and finally to Ireland, where the poor farming population had
no alternative foods to fall back on. It is ironic that late blight
probably was introduced into Europe via new potato varieties that
had been imported from the Western Hemisphere to counter epidemics
of fungal "dry rot" and viral "curl" that
had plagued previous decades. Although some scientists had observed
that copper sulfate (as a dip for seed or an application for foliage)
offered plants protection against what later came to be understood
as fungal diseases, the science of plant pathology and pesticides
was not yet far advanced, and no preventive or ameliorative steps
were taken. "Bordeaux mixture," an antifungal application
suitable for grape vines and potatoes, was not tried until the
blight of 1845 savaged 40 (not 100) percent of the crop, but infected
tubers were allowed to rot in the fields, where they incubated
the spores of the following years disasters. In 1846, ideal
weather conditions for late blight aided the rapid infection of
early tubers, so that barely 10 percent of the crop was salvaged.
But in the aftermath of the less-than-total disaster of 1845,
the 1846 emergency was largely ignored by the British government,
which failed to suspend the Corn Laws and continued both to export
Irish grain and to forbid emergency grain imports. Taxes continued
to be enforced, evictions soared, and relief measures, which included
food-for-work and soup kitchens, were too few and too late. Bourke
(1993), among others, blamed the English as well as the Irish
landlords, a well-off greedy few who benefited from the political
and economic policies that impoverished the masses.
accompanied hunger through 1848, with the result that more than
a million and a half Irish people either died or emigrated in
search of sustenance. Neither the population nor its potato production
ever recovered, although to this day, Irelands per capita
potato consumption (143 kilograms [kg] per year) surpasses that
of rival high consumers in Europe (the Portuguese consume 107
kg per year and Spaniards 106 kg) (Lysaght 1994).
potato also remains an enduring "polysemous symbol,"
celebrated in Irish literature and culinary arts. In the writings
of James Joyce, the potato serves as talisman, as signifier of
heroic continuity, but also as a symbol of deterioration and decadence
(Merritt 1990). Joyces references to typical Irish national
dishes have been collected, with recipes, into a cookbook entitled
The Joyce of Cooking (Armstrong 1986).
descendants of the original S. tuberosum ssp. andigena
clones were virtually wiped out with the arrival of late blight
in the midnineteenth century. They were replaced by ssp.
tuberosum varieties that also like their predecessors
hybridized readily across subspecies. A single clone, named
"Chilean Rough Purple Chili," has accounted for a large
proportion of subsequent European and North American potatoes,
including the "Early Rose" and "Russet Burbank"
varieties, the latter of which was introduced into the United
States in 1876. In addition to Russet Burbank, several very old
varieties still predominate in the United States and Europe, notably
"Bintje," introduced into the Netherlands in 1910, and
"King Edward," introduced into the United Kingdom in
1902 (Hermsen and Swiezynski 1987). Attempts to broaden the genetic
base for breeding accelerated in the 1920s and 1930s, with N.
I. Vavilovs Russian expedition that collected frost- and
blight-resistant varieties from South America and, subsequently,
with the British Empire (later Commonwealth) Potato Collecting
Expedition (Hawkes 1990).
and viruses notwithstanding, the potato played an ever-expanding
role in European food economies. Epitomized in Vincent Van Goghs
"Potato Eaters" of 1885, but more nobly so in Millets
"Potato Planters" of 1861, potatoes on the European
mainland came to symbolize the rugged, honest peasant, wresting
life and livelihood from the soil. In England, eastern Europe,
and Russia, potatoes played significant nutritional roles during
ordinary times and assumed extraordinary nutritional roles in
war years (Salaman 1985). Even today they remain the fallback
crop in times of turmoil, as was seen in Russia in the severe
months of 1992, following glasnost and the reorganization of the
economy. An article the same year in the New Scientist
reported that Russian citizens were planting potatoes everywhere,
even illegally in the Losinskii Ostrove National Park, and attempting
to steal potatoes from farms!
were directly responsible for the introduction of potatoes into
North America, where they were well established by the eighteenth
century. In addition, potatoes accompanied colonists to India,
to French Indochina (CIP 1984), to China (Anderson 1988), and
to New Zealand where, in the nineteenth century, the Maoris adopted
them on the model of other tuber crops (Yen 1961/2). Potatoes
also entered Africa with Belgian, British, French, and German
colonists, who consumed them as a vegetable rather than as a staple
starch. The largest recent expansion of potato cultivation has
been in former European colonies, where people in the nineteenth
century regarded the tuber as a high-value garden crop and prestigious
European vegetable but since then (perhaps in conjunction with
the end of colonialism) have come to view it as a staple or costaple
garnish and snack (Woolfe 1987).
in Developing Countries
Asia and Africa, the potato has filled a number of production
and consumption niches, and its history on these continents has
been similar to that in Europe. Once again, despite its advantages
as an antifamine, high-elevation alternative to grain, with particular
virtues during conflicts, the potato was at first resisted by
local farmers, who believed it to be poisonous. In the highest
elevation zones, such as the Nepalese Himalayas (Fürer-Haimendorf
1964) and the upper reaches of Rwanda (Scott 1988), potatoes took
root as a new staple food crop and contributed to subsistence,
surplus, and population expansion. The plants were promoted by
savvy rulers, who used demonstration, economic incentives, or
coercion to overcome farmers superstitions and resistance
(CIP 1984). In Africa, as in Europe, the popularity of the tubers
increased in wartime because they could be stored in the ground.
the 1972 creation of the International Potato Center (CIP) and
its mission to increase potato production and consumption in developing
countries while protecting biodiversity, the introduction of improved
potato varieties has accelerated around the world. CIPs
activities, along with the operation of diverse market forces,
have resulted in some African and Asian countries rapidly becoming
areas of high potato consumption. Prior to its most recent civil
conflict, Rwanda in some localities witnessed per capita consumption
as high as 153 to 200 kg per year (Scott 1988) higher than
that in any Western European country, including Ireland. If Rwanda
can reattain peace, and agronomic and credit constraints on production
and infrastructural limits on marketing could be removed, production
could expand much farther and faster from the "grassroots,"
as it has in neighboring Tanzania. There, local farmers in recent
years have developed the potato as a cash crop the result
of the introduction of several new varieties brought back by migrant
laborers from Uganda, the diffusion of other varieties from Kenya,
and the comparative advantage of raising potatoes relative to
other cash or subsistence crops (Andersson 1996).
potato offers excellent advantages as a subsistence crop because
of its high yields, low input costs, and favorable response to
intensive gardening techniques (for example, Nganga 1984). But
potato promotions in Africa ominously echo the terms in which
eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British observers praised the
tuber. Scientists and political economists should be ever vigilant
in ensuring that the potato is not again employed as a stopgap
measure in contexts of great social inequality and food utritional
insecurity, where vulnerability to late blight (or any other stressor)
might lead to a repetition of the Great (nineteenth-century Irish)
Hunger. Techniques of "clean" seed dissemination and
mixed cropping strategies that "clean" the soil are
designed to help prevent such calamities now and in the future.
But all highlight the need to monitor pests and improve breeding
materials so that resistant varieties of the potato are easily
available to farmers who have become increasingly reliant on it
for food and income.
same cautions hold for Asia, where production and consumption
of potatoes is expanding because of the market as well as international
agricultural interests. Since the 1970s, the greatest rate of
increase has been in the warm, humid, subtropical lowlands of
Asia, where potatoes are planted as a dry-season intercrop with
rice or wheat (Vander Zaag 1984), providing income and relief
from seasonal hunger (Chakrabarti 1986). The surge in potato production
has been spurred in some cases by new seeding materials and techniques.
In Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s, the Vietnamese and CIP introduced
superior, blight-resistant clones that could be multiplied by
tissue culture and micropropagation methods. Some enterprising
farming families then took over the labor-intensive rapid multiplication,
so that by 1985, three household "cottage industries"
were supplying 600,000 cuttings for some 12,000 farmers (CIP 1984).
Production in other Asian nations has also accelerated (for example,
in Sri Lanka) as a result of government promotions and policies
that have banned imports of all (including seed) potatoes since
the 1960s (CIP 1984).
Central America and the Caribbean, financial incentives and media
promotion have been used to increase production and consumption
of potatoes in places unaccustomed to them, such as the Dominican
Republic, where the state offered credit and guaranteed purchase
to potato farmers after the country experienced a rice deficit
(CIP 1984). Similarly, during post-hurricane disaster conditions
of 1987, Nicaraguans were encouraged to eat more potatoes
these shipped from friendly donors in the Soviet bloc. In South
American countries, campaigns are underway to encourage farmers
to grow more potatoes for sale as well as for home consumption,
as in Bolivia, where economists hope that as part of diversified
employment strategies, an increased production and sale of improved
potato varieties can have a multiplier effect, reducing unemployment
and increasing access to food (Franco and Godoy 1993). But all
of these programs highlight the need to reconcile production and
income concerns with the protection of biodiversity and reduction
and Utilizing Biodiversity
scientific attempts to broaden the genetic base for potato breeding
began with European scientific expeditions in the 1920s and 1930s,
including the already-mentioned Russian (Vavilov 1951) and British
collections. Today, major gene banks and study collections are
maintained at the Potato Introduction Center, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin;
the Braunschweig-Volkenrode Genetic Resources Center (Joint German-Netherlands
Potato Gene Bank); the N. I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry
in Leningrad; and the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima.
Major potato-producing countries publish annual lists of registered
varieties, standardized to report on agronomic characteristics
(disease and pest resistances, seasonality, and environmental
tolerances) and cooking and processing qualities (industrial-processing
suitability for fries, chips, or dehydration; or home-processing
aspects, such as requisite cooking times for boiling, baking,
roasting, or frying). Additional consumer descriptors include
color, texture, flavor, and the extent of any postcooking tendency
to blacken or disintegrate.
low alkaloid content is the main chemical toxicity concern, especially
because glycoalkaloids are often involved in pest-resistance characteristics
introduced during plant breeding. In one historical example, U.S.
and Canadian agricultural officials were obliged to remove a promising
new multiresistant variety (named "Lenape") from production
because a scientist discovered its sickeningly high alkaloid content
the 1960s, new varieties have been protected by plant breeders
rights and, internationally, by the Union Pour la Protection
des Obtentions Végétales (UPOV), which uses
a standard set of 107 taxonomic characters to describe individual
potato cultivars. UPOV is designed to facilitate exchanges among
member countries and so accelerate the breeding process. Collection,
conservation, documentation, evaluation, exchange, and use of
germ plasm are also regulated by descriptor lists produced in
cooperation with the International Bank for Plant Genetic Resources
pace of new varietal introductions is accelerating as more wild
species of potential utility for potato improvement are identified
and genetically tapped for useful traits that are transferred
with the assistance of biotechnology. Wild potatoes with resistance
to one pathogen or pest tend to be susceptible to others and may
have undesirable growth, tuber, or quality (especially high alkaloid)
characteristics. Conventional breeding still requires 12 to 15
years to develop new varieties that include desirable and
exclude undesirable genes. Protoplast fusion, selection
from somaclonal variation, and genetic engineering via Agrobacterium
tumefaciens are some "unconventional" techniques
that promise to widen the scope and quicken the pace of varietal
improvement, especially once the genes that control important
traits have been characterized. The latter process is facilitated
by advances in genetic linkage mapping (Tanksley, Ganal, and Prince
1992) and in practical communication among conventional breeding
and agronomic programs (Thomson 1987) that set objectives.
countries (such as the Netherlands, which has a highly successful
seed-potato export business) have been contributing to the development
of varieties with superior tolerance for environmental stressors,
especially heat and drought, as potato production grows in subtropical
countries of Asia and Africa (Levy 1987). Innovative breeding
programs also include social components that respond to economic
concerns, such as that growing potatoes for market contributes
to womens household income. A Dutch-sponsored program in
Asia built up a potato network of women social scientists, nutritionists,
and marketing experts along these lines. CIP, in consultation
with professionals from national programs, coordinates research
and varietal development as well as collection and characterization
of germ plasm (seed material) from wild resources.
International Potato Center (CIP) which grew out of the Mexican
national potato program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation,
is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research. It provides a major resource and impetus for strategic
studies that tap the genetic and phenotypic diversity of the potato
and accelerate the introduction of useful characteristics into
new cultivars. Since 1972, CIP has built and maintained the World
Potato Collection of some 13,000 accessions, characterized as
5,000 cultivars and 1,500 wild types. In addition to South American
programs, CIP potato campaigns extend from the plains of India,
Pakistan, and Bangladesh to the oases of North Africa and the
highlands and valleys of Central Africa.
major technical activities include an effective population breeding
strategy, "clean" (pest- and disease-free) germ-plasm
distribution, virus and viroid detection and elimination, agronomy,
integrated pest management, tissue culture and rapid multiplication
of seed materials, advancement of true potato seed as an alternative
to tubers or microtubers, and improvement of storage practices.
In the 1990s, a principal thrust of research has been to generate
seed materials resistant to late blight, which has reemerged in
a more virulent, sexually reproducing form (Niederhauser 1992;
involve breeding for multi-gene ("horizontal") rather
than single-gene resistance, development and dissemination of
true potato seed (which does not disseminate the fungus), and
integrated pest management that relies on cost-effective applications
of fungicides (CIP 1994). Training, regional networks, and participatory
research with farmers are additional dimensions of CIP programs.
Collaborative networks offer courses that allow potato specialists
to interact and address common problems. In addition, CIP also
pioneered "farmer-back-to-farmer" research, whereby
effective techniques developed by farmers in one part of the world
are shared with farmers in other geographic areas. For example,
as already mentioned, reduction of postharvest losses through
diffused-light storage is a technique that CIP researchers learned
from Peruvian farmers and then brokered to farmers in Asia and
Africa (CIP 1984; Rhoades 1984).
also extends its networking to international food purveyors, such
as McDonalds and Pepsico transnational corporations
interested in developing improved, pest-resistant, uniformly shaped,
high-solid-content potato varieties to be used in making standardized
fries. One goal of such enterprises is to develop local sources
of supply of raw potatoes for the firms international franchises,
an accomplishment that would improve potato production and income
for developing-country farmers and also reduce transportation
costs (Walsh 1990). Although principally engaged in agricultural
research and extension, CIP also studies consumption patterns,
which can improve the potatos dietary and nutritional contributions
while eliminating waste (Woolfe 1987; Bouis and Scott 1996).
and Nutritional Dimensions
simply boiled, baked, or roasted are an inexpensive,
nutritious, and ordinarily harmless source of carbohydrate calories
and good-quality protein, and potato skins are an excellent source
of vitamin C. Because a small tuber (100 grams [g]) boiled in
its skin provides 16 mg of ascorbic acid 80 percent of
a childs or 50 percent of an adults daily requirement
the potato is an excellent preventive against scurvy. Potatoes
are also a good source of the B vitamins (thiamine, pyridoxine,
and niacin) and are rich in potassium, phosphorus, and other trace
elements. Nutritive value by weight is low because potatoes are
mostly water, but consumed in sufficient quantity to meet caloric
needs, the dry matter (about 20 percent) provides the micronutrients
just mentioned, an easily digestible starch, and nitrogen (protein),
which is comparable on a dry-weight basis to the protein content
of cereals and, on a cooked basis, to that of boiled cereals,
such as rice- or grain-based gruels (Woolfe 1987).
protein, like that of legumes, is high in lysine and low in sulfur-containing
amino acids, making potatoes a good nutritional staple for adults,
especially if consumed with cereals as a protein complement. Prepared
in fresh form, however, tubers are too bulky to provide a staple
for infants or children without an energy-rich supplement. Food
technologists are hopeful that novel processing measures may manage
to convert the naturally damp, starchy tuber (which molds easily)
into a light, nutritious powder that can be reconstituted as a
healthful snack or baby food. They also hope to make use of potato
protein concentrate, derived either directly by protein recovery
or from single-cell protein grown on potato-processing waste (Woolfe
1987). Both advances would minimize waste as well as deliver new
sources of nutrients for humans and animals, rendering potato
processing more economical. Containing contaminants in industrial
potato processing is still very expensive, but sun-drying, a cottage
or village industry in India and other Asian countries, holds
promise as an inexpensive way to preserve the potato and smooth
out seasonal market gluts.
looms as a large issue because fungus-infected, improperly stored,
and undercooked potatoes are toxic for both humans and livestock.
Storage and preparation also can diminish the tubers sensory
and nutritional qualities. Sweetening (enzyme conversion of starch),
lipid degradation, and discoloration or blackening are signs of
deterioration that reduces palatability and protein value. Storage
in direct sunlight raises glycoalkaloid content. Other antinutritional
factors, such as proteinase inhibitors and lectins, which play
a role in insect resistance in some varieties, are ordinarily
destroyed by heat, but undercooking, especially when fuel is limited,
can leave potatoes indigestible and even poisonous.
peeling, boiling, and other handling of potatoes decrease micronutrient
values, they remove dirt, roughage, and toxins, as well as render
potatoes edible. In their Andean heartland, potatoes have always
been consumed fresh (boiled or roasted) or reconstituted in stews
from freeze-dried or sun-dried forms. They have been the most
important root-crop starchy staple, although other cultivated
and wild tubers are consumed along with cereals, both indigenous
(maize and quinoa) and nonindigenous (barley and wheat). Despite
the importance of the potato, cereals were often preferred. For
example, Inca ruling elites, just prior to conquest, were said
to have favored maize over potatoes, perhaps because the cereal
provided denser carbohydrate-protein-fat calories and also was
superior for brewing. For these reasons, the Inca may have moved
highland peasant populations to lowland irrigated valley sites,
where they produced maize instead of potatoes (Earle et al. 1987;
Coe 1994). In South America today, potatoes are consumed as a
staple or costaple with noodles, barley, rice, and/or legumes
and are not used for the manufacture of alcohol. In Central America
and Mexico, they are consumed as a costaple main dish or vegetable,
in substitution for beans.
Europe, potatoes historically were added to stews, much like other
root vegetables, or boiled, baked, roasted, or fried with the
addition of fat, salt, and spices. Boiled potatoes became the
staple for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish adults, who
consumed up to 16 pounds per person per day in the absence of
oatmeal, bread, milk, or pork. These potatoes were served in forms
that included pies and cakes (Armstrong 1986). In eastern Europe
and Russia, potatoes were eaten boiled or roasted, or were prepared
as a costaple with wheat flour in pasta or pastries. In France,
by the nineteenth century, fried potatoes were popular, and potatoes
were also consumed in soup. In France, Germany, and northern and
eastern Europe, potatoes were used for the manufacture of alcohol,
which was drunk as a distinct beverage or was put into fortified
wines (Bourke 1993). In Great Britain and North America, there
developed "fish and chips" and "meat and potatoes"
diets. In both locations, potatoes comprised the major starchy
component of meals that usually included meat and additional components
of green leafy or yellow vegetables.
former European colonies of Asia and Africa, potatoes were initially
consumed only occasionally, like asparagus or other relatively
high-cost vegetables, but increased production made them a staple
in certain areas. In central African regions of relatively high
production, potatoes are beaten with grains and legumes into a
stiff porridge, or boiled or roasted and eaten whole. Alternatively,
in many Asian cuisines they provide a small garnish, one of a
number of side dishes that go with a main staple, or they serve
as a snack food consumed whole or in a flour-based pastry. Woolfe
(1987: 207, Figure 6.7) has diagrammed these possible dietary
roles and has described a four-part "typology of potato consumption"
that ranges from (1) potato as staple or costaple, a main source
of food energy eaten almost every day for a total consumption
of 60 to 200 kg per year; to (2) potato as a complementary vegetable
served one or more times per week; to (3) potato as a luxury or
special food consumed with 1 to 12 meals per year; to (4) potato
as a nonfood because it is either unknown or tabooed. For each
of these culinary ends, cultural consumers recognize and rank
multiple varieties of potatoes.
the United States, potato varieties are sometimes classified,
named, and marketed according to their geographical location of
production (for example, "Idaho" potatoes for baking).
They are also classified by varietal name (for example, Russet
Burbank, which comes from Idaho but also from other places and
is good for baking) and by color and size (for example, small,
red, "White Rose," "Gold Rose," "Yukon
Gold," or "Yellow Finn," which are designated tasty
and used for boiling or mashing). Varieties are also characterized
according to cooking qualities that describe their relative starch
and moisture content. High-starch, "floury" potatoes
are supposed to be better for baking, frying, and mashing; lower-starch,
"waxy" potatoes are better for boiling, roasting, and
salads (because they hold their shape); and medium-starch, "all-purpose"
potatoes are deemed good for pan-frying, scalloping, and pancakes.
(for example, McGee 1984) suggest that relative starch content
and function can be determined by a saltwater test (waxy potatoes
float, floury varieties sink) or by observation (oval-shaped,
thick-skinned potatoes prove better for baking, whereas large,
round, thin-skinned potatoes suit many purposes). Specialized
cookbooks devoted entirely to the potato help consumers and home
cooks make sense of this great diversity (Marshall 1992; see also
ONeill 1992), offering a wide range of recipes, from simple
to elegant, for potato appetizers (crepes, puff pastries, fritters,
pies, and tarts); potato ingredients, thickeners, or binders in
soups; and potato salads, breads, and main courses. They detail
dishes that use potatoes baked, mashed, sauteed, braised, or roasted;
as fries and puffs (pommes soufflés is folklorically
dated to 1837 and King Louis Philippe), and in gratinées
(baked with a crust); as well as potato dumplings, gnocchi, pancakes,
and even desserts. Potato cookbooks, along with elegant presentations
of the tubers in fine restaurants, have helped transform the image
of the potato from a fattening and undesirable starch into a desirable
and healthful gourmet food item.
production over the years has produced larger but more insipid
potatoes that are baked, boiled, and mashed, mixed with fats and
spices, fried, or mixed with oil and vinegar in salads. Running
counter to this trend, however, has been a demand in the 1990s
for "heirloom" (traditional) varieties, which increasingly
are protected by patent to ensure greater income for their developers
and marketers. In the United States, heirloom varieties are disseminated
through fine-food stores, as well as seed catalogues that distribute
eyes, cuttings, and mini-tubers for home gardens. There is even
a Maine-based "Potato of the Month Club," which markets
"old-fashioned" or organically grown varieties (ONeill
1992) to people unable to grow their own.
are also scrambling to design new gold or purple varieties that
can be sold at a premium. In 1989, Michigan State University breeders
completed designing a "perfect" potato ("MICHIGOLD")
for Michigan farmers: Distinctive and yellow-fleshed, this variety
was tasty, nutritious, high yielding, and disease resistant, and
(its breeders joked), it would not grow well outside of Michigans
borders (from the authors interviews with Michigan State
University scientists). Also of current importance is a search
for exotic potatoes, such as the small, elongated, densely golden-fleshed
"La Ratte" or "La Reine," which boasts "a
flavor that hints richly of hazelnuts and chestnuts" (Fabricant
1996). These return the modern, North American consumer to what
were perhaps the "truffle-like" flavors reported by
sixteenth-century Spaniards encountering potatoes for the first
time. Such special varieties also may help to counter the trend
of ever more industrially processed potato foods that has been
underway since the 1940s.
Processed Potato Foods
the end of World War II, processed products have come to dominate
75 percent of the potato market, especially as frozen or snack
foods. Seventy percent of Idaho-grown and 80 percent of Washington-grown
potatoes are processed, and the proportion is also growing in
Europe and Asia (Talburt 1975). Freeze-dried potatoes received
a boost during the war years, when U.S. technologists are reported
to have visited South America to explore the ancient art of potato
freeze-drying and adapt it for military rations (Werge 1979).
Since World War II, the development of the frozen food industry
and other food-industry processes and packaging, combined with
a surging demand for snack and "fast" (convenience)
have contributed to the increasing expansion of industrially processed
potato products in civilian markets. By the 1970s, 50 percent
of potatoes consumed in the United States were dehydrated, fried,
canned, or frozen, with close to 50 percent of this amount in
the frozen food category. The glossy reports of mammoth food purveyors,
Heinz, which controls Ore-Ida, proudly boast new
and growing markets for processed potatoes (and their standby,
ketchup) in the former Soviet Union and Asia.
other large growth area for fried potatoes and chips has been
in the transnational restaurant chains, where fries (with burgers)
symbolize modernization or diet globalization. Unfortunately,
the "value added" in calories and cost compounds the
nutritional problems of consumers struggling to subsist on marginal
food budgets, as well as those of people who are otherwise poorly
nourished. For less affluent consumers, consumption of fries and
other relatively expensive, fat-laden potato products means significant
losses (of 50 percent or more) in the nutrients available in freshly
prepared potatoes a result of the many steps involved in
storage, processing, and final preparation. Although processed
potato foods are not "bad" in themselves, the marginal
nutritional contexts in which some people choose to eat them means
a diversion of critical monetary and food resources from more
nutritious and cost-effective food purchases. The health risks
associated with high amounts of fat and obesity are additional
Present and Future
consumption is on the rise in most parts of the world. In 1994,
China led other nations by producing 40,039,000 metric tons, followed
by the Russian Federation (33,780,000), Poland (23,058,000), the
United States (20,835,000), Ukraine (16,102,000), and India (15,000,000)
(FAO 1995). Average annual per capita consumption is reported
to be highest in certain highland regions of Rwanda (153 kg),
Peru (100 to 200 kg), and highland Asia (no figures available)
(Woolfe 1987), with the largest rate of increase in lowland Asia.
of potato production and consumption has resulted from the inherent
plasticity of the crop; the international training, technical
programs, and technology transfer offered by CIP and European
purveyors; the ecological opportunities fostered by the "Green
Revolution" in other kinds
of farming, especially Asian cereal-based systems;
and overarching political-economic transformations in income and
trade that have influenced local potato production and consumption,
via the fast-food industry. The use of potatoes has grown because
of the ease with which they can be genetically manipulated and
because of their smooth fit into multivarietal or multispecies
agronomic systems, not to mention the expanding number of uses
for the potato as a food and as a raw industrial material.
potato already has a well-developed, high-density molecular linkage
map that promises to facilitate marker-assisted breeding (Tanksley
1992). Coupled with its ease of transformation by cellular (protoplast
fusion) or molecular (Agrobacterium-assisted) methods,
and useful somaclone variants, the potato is developing into a
model food crop for genetic engineering. By 1995, there was a
genetically engineered variety, containing bt-toxin as a defense
against the potato beetle, in commercial trials (Holmes 1995).
Where the potato is intercropped rather than monocropped, it also
encourages scientists to rethink the agricultural engineering
enterprise as a multicropping system or cycle, within which agronomists
must seek to optimize production with more efficient uses of moisture,
fertilizer, and antipest applications (Messer 1996). Resurgent
and more virulent forms of late blight, as well
as coevolving virus and beetle pests, are the targets of integrated
pest management that combines new biotechnological tools with
more conventional chemical and biological ones.
continue to serve as a raw material for starch, alcohol, and livestock
fodder (especially in Europe). In addition, they may soon provide
a safe and reliable source of genetically engineered pharmaceuticals,
such as insulin, or of chemical polymers for plastics and synthetic
rubbers. Inserting genes for polymer-making enzymes has been the
easy step; regulating production of those enzymes relative to
natural processes already in the plant is the next, more difficult,
one (Pool 1989). A cartoonist (Pool 1989) captured the irony of
saving the family farm whereby small farmers, on contract,
grow raw materials for plastics by portraying the classic
Midwestern "American Gothic" farmer husband and wife
standing pitchforks in hand, before a field of plastic bottles!
With less irony, potatoes have come to serve as a model crop for
philanthropy. The Virginia-based Society of St. Andrew, through
its potato project, has salvaged more than 200 million pounds
of fresh produce, especially potatoes, which has been redirected
to feed the hungry. Perhaps the memory of Irelands potato
famine continues to inspire acts of relief and development assistance
through such organizations as Irish Concern and Action from Ireland,
which, along with Irish political leaders (for example, Robinson
1992), reach out to prevent famine deaths, especially as the people
of Ireland mark the 150th anniversary of the Great Hunger.
the foregoing history are at least four paradoxes. The first is
the potatos transformation in Europe from an antifamine
food crop to a catalyst of famine. Ominously, the principal reliance
on this species, which makes possible survival, subsistence, and
surplus production in high-elevation zones all over the world,
and which yields more calories per unit area than cereals, "caused"
the Irish famine of 18458 and continues to make other poor
rural populations vulnerable to famine.
too, has been the transformation of this simple, naturally nutritious,
inexpensive source of carbohydrate, protein, and vitamins into
a relatively expensive processed food and less-healthy carrier
of fat in the globalization of french fries and hamburgers.
third paradox is the enduring or even revitalized importance of
Andean source materials for the global proliferation of potatoes.
Advances in agronomy and varietal improvement have made the potato
an increasingly important and diverse crop for all scales and
levels of production and consumption across the globe. But in
the face of such geographic and culinary developments, the traditional
South American potato cultures continue to present what to some
scientists is a surprising wealth of biological, ecological, storage,
and processing knowledge (Werge 1979; Rhoades 1984; Brush 1992).
The management of biological diversity, ecology of production,
and storage and processing methods are three areas in which indigenous
agriculture has continued to inform contemporary potato research.
Thus, despite dispersal all over the globe, scientists still return
to the potatos heartland to learn how to improve and protect
fourth paradox is that potatoes may yet experience their greatest
contribution to nutrition and help put an end to hunger, not directly
as food but as a component of diversified agro-ecosystems and
an industrial cash crop. Since their beginnings, potatoes have
always formed a component of diversified agro-livestock food systems.
Historically, they achieved their most significant dietary role
when grown in rotation with cereals (as in Ireland). Today, they
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about how biotechnology-assisted agriculture can be implemented
more sustainably. So far, plant biotechnologists have considered
mainly the host-resistance to individual microbes or insects,
and never with more than one crop at a time. But adding potatoes
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to look more closely at the efficiency with which cropping systems
use moisture and chemicals, and to ask how subsequent crops can
utilize effectively the field residues of previous plantings in
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to integrate potatoes into tropical cropping systems, particularly
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perhaps the first crop cultivated in the Western Hemisphere, are
now contributing to a revolution of their own in the newest agricultural
revolution: the bio- or gene revolution in Asia. In addition,
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