You Had Us At Sweet Potato

logoWe have only recently discovered this resource but I expect you will start seeing a flow of interesting stories. sourced from Harvest Public Media, that touch on topics of interest to us here. For example, the mere mention of sweet potatoes was enough to get us interested:

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According to the USDA, sweet potato consumption in the U.S. nearly doubled in just 15 years, from about 4 pounds per person in 2000. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

Sweet potatoes are undergoing a modern renaissance in this country.

While they have always made special appearances on many American tables around the holidays, year-round demand for the root vegetables has grown. In 2015, farmers produced more sweet potatoes than in any year since World War II.

War Effort

“A lot of things were hard to get during World War II and potatoes were easier to raise than some of the other vegetables,” my grandmother Joyce Heise tells me.

She grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her grandfather farmed potatoes, and their orange sister tuber, sweet potatoes. “And then some things were rationed so you had to do with what the best you could,” she says.

Regular potatoes and sweet potatoes were a staple in American victory gardens and on dining tables. Why? They were cheap and really easy to grow. Back then, we didn’t have sweets like we do now. So sweet potatoes satisfied that sweet tooth at a discount for Americans strapped for sugar and cash.

By the end of the war, U.S. farmers were growing more than 3 billion pounds of sweet potatoes. But when soldiers returned home, people went back to work and the economy hummed.

“It became cheaper to buy russet potatoes than, you know, to grow your own sweet potatoes,” April McGreger says. She grew up on a sweet potato farm in Mississippi and wrote about the history of the root vegetable in her book Sweet Potatoes.

“At around the same time, we really had this sort of movement away from small farming families in the U.S. into working people in more industrialized jobs,” she says. “That means people purchasing more of their food instead of growing it.”

Industrialization of farming and the rise of processed foods left sweet potatoes in the dust. U.S. production dropped by a billion pounds within two years after the war and it bottomed out in 1980, with less than 1 billion pounds total, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fad diets and trendy restaurants

Fast-forward to the 2000s when the sweet potato began its ascension. One big reason: the fad diet. For anyone on the South Beach Diet, Paleo diet, or Atkins diet, the hearty sweet potato was a godsend. Even TV personalities like Dr. Oz highlighted the magic of the vegetable…

Read the whole story here.

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