As far as I can tell, my family came to America during the Irish potato famine sometime in the early 1850’s. The famine was caused by an airborne virus that traveled in the holds of ships, and it spread throughout Ireland like a fog. The virus was fast moving and even faster at destruction. The spores would land on the leaves of the potato plant, and they rapidly would turn black and die. One infected potato could infect thousands of others within days. The Irish people watched as their crops perished before their very eyes. They would try to save them by digging them up and at first, it appeared to work, the potatoes looked normal. But within a few days, they would start to wither and stink and would soon rot away. I read once that Irish farmers could eat up to 14 pounds of potatoes in one day. Taters filled a man’s belly. I think about what that must have been like watching helplessly as your food source disappeared as you are helpless to stop it. The famine caused widespread starvation throughout Ireland. My people had no potatoes, no property, and no prospects. But what they did have was hope. So they gathered up their kids and came to America. Potato love is in my DNA. I have never met a potato I didn’t like. I have to admit it delighted me beyond belief when I watched Matt Damon grow potatoes on Mars in The Martian, the movie based on Andy Weir’s novel.
So really, I have a point behind all of this potato lore. Recently I attended a retreat with a group of lovely and health-minded women. My friend Cheryl was part of that group, and we have a shared love of spuds. Being the brilliant lady she is, brought a bag of potatoes with her. I want to believe that she knew that someone would make something delightful to eat out of them and that’s why she brought them. So here is the crazy part, once she arrived, she offered her potatoes to the chef. Our chef was a lovely young woman who is all about nutrition and balance. The vast majority of the food she prepared was vegan, raw, gluten-free and with minimum sugar. She was going to make sure that our ten days with her were all about the right things for us to eat. Eating this well was a challenge for me. I admit it I have a carb problem. I should attend meetings for it. (Hello, My name is Mari, and I am a card-carrying carb-oholic.) So back to the potatoes, Cheryl was asked if they were non-GMO and organic. They weren’t – they were just grocery store potatoes. Yikes, The poor potatoes were soundly rejected not even allowed in the house. Someone said they could take them and feed them to her dogs. Cheryl had been potato shamed. Now I understand the issues surrounding GMO’s and organic food. I went to culinary school and knew that you should always buy the best food you can and as much as possible eat clean. And at the very same time, I am aware that everyone is different and not every one gets the luxury of eating this way. And due to my spud love, this rejection was hard to swallow.
The week went by, and the work got deep and emotional. I wanted, no I needed some comfort food. All I could think about was mashed potatoes. I begged a ride into town and made sure I bought organic potatoes. I made the most marvelous mashed potatoes that night. Full of butter and real milk and enough salt to make my taste buds dance! Nom nom nom. Ahhh. Life was good! Simple, delightful and outstanding.
I guess the reason I tell this story is because of what happened at the end of the week. There was a closing ceremony that consisted of presenting a gift to our community. A symbol of what we wanted to offer to the world. Remember the rejected bag of potatoes earlier in the story? Cheryl allowed me to use them as my offering. I made mashed potatoes that made my group happy, so they knew potatoes were my thing. My community laughed, and they also got what it meant before I did. As we were getting ready to leave two of the women asked for a few potatoes to take home with them. They wanted to cut them up and plant them. They were going to grow their own.
I could almost hear the light bulb click over my head. It made me think, my husband and I have been very fortunate, and we have had the opportunity to start a charitable foundation. Our foundation is like a big bag of potatoes. We are lucky enough to be able to share our potatoes. I like to think that the support we offer organizations can be thought of like a potato. They can use it in lots of different ways. Administration costs, direct support or 15 other things. It translates into mashed, au gratin or french fries, but I think it’s just because it is almost dinner time as I write this blog and I’m feeling hungry. And they also can use a part of that potato to plant more. I realize that I am reaching here. What lovely way to think about charity. What if everyone just shared one potato and those potatoes grew into more potatoes. How far could that reach?
So thank you universe for my favorite starch. I am grateful on many levels for you. Now I think I’m going to make some french fries for dinner.