A new multi-million dollar promotional campaign across the UK and Ireland will encourage the world’s famous potato-lovers, the Irish, to eat even more spuds, despite already being the world’s highest consumer per capita of the vegetable.
“Potatoes: More than a bit on the side,” a joint initiative by Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) and Britain's Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), is a three-year program aimed at promoting the consumption of potatoes and raising “consumer awareness of the versatility and nutritional values of fresh potatoes."
The program will be half funded by the European Union leading to some complaints from so-called Euroskeptics who believe that the Union’s $5.5 million contribution could be spent in better ways than a program encouraging potato-eaters to eat even more potatoes.
Express.co.uk claims that the new joint program will cost the UK taxpayer $2.3 million despite the fact that, according to 2009 figures, an average of 40.8 lb of potatoes is eaten by Irish people annually.
The potato has long been a staple of the Irish diet, included in meals such as boxty, stews, and colcannon. This reliance on potatoes as a staple crop was a factor in the infamous Great Hunger between 1845 and 1853 in which a million Irish people died and another million left for foreign shores. A potato blight ruined the crop year after year leaving the Irish people with no other food alternative.
Despite this, the potato continued to be widely eaten throughout the country until the recent dip over the past decade. Perhaps due to the influx of other food types and health kicks, the Irish government has reported that there has been a 25 percent fall in the amount of potatoes sold in Ireland over the past ten years, a trend that has been paralleled in the UK.
Speaking about the massive drop in potato consumption, Nick White, head of marketing and corporate affairs for AHDB Potatoes, said, “We really need to challenge consumer perceptions of fresh potatoes – particularly amongst younger age groups – in order to combat declining sales and consumption.
"This integrated campaign will aim to reach consumers at every opportunity; instilling positive shopping and eating habits that will benefit the industry both now and in the long-term.”
The promotional campaign has left some with a chip on their shoulders, however. The EU move has come under fire from the UK Independence Party (UKIP), as being as waste of taxpayer's money.
A spokesperson for the party said: "This may well be the first of a sequence of money wasting promotions where the Italians are persuaded to eat more spaghetti, the Spaniards more oranges, and the French to drink more wine.
"If the EU are determined to increase potato consumption in Ireland they should first ensure that Irish potato producers are not prevented by EU rules from using modern technology to control potato blight.
"In the 1840s this disease reduced potato yields to such an extent that a million Irish people died of hunger due to over-reliance on potatoes."
Investment in the Irish potato industry will be welcomed by the 500 potato growers in Ireland, however, who plant over 9,000 hectares of land with the spud.
In 2014 alone, Ireland produced 350,000 tons of potatoes giving the industry a national value of $80.1 million. The average national consumption has decreased in recent decades, however, falling from 308 lb per capita in the 1970s to 187 lb in 2015.
Bord Bia believes this fall in consumption is due to the belief that potatoes are fattening, the image of the potato as boring and unexciting, and the increase in people cutting carbohydrates from their diet, although it still remains the number one carbohydrate consumed in Ireland
The campaign, using the catchphrase “Potatoes: More than a bit on the side,” features recipes and nutritional information on the humble spud, working on behalf of potato farmers to ensure that the consumption of UK and Irish spuds increases again and that the industry remains competitive.
According to the website, potatoes are a natural source of fiber with a jacket potato containing more fiber than two slices of wholemeal bread. They're also a natural source of potassium (that contributes to normal muscle function), magnesium (that helps the maintenance of teeth and bones) and copper and zinc (which aids the normal function of the immune system, as well as the maintenance of normal hair, nails, skin, vision and bones).
* Originally published in October 2015.