I like potatoes. I like history. A book tracing the history of the potato, it’s global spread and it’s use in statecraft is right up my ally. Rebecca Earle’s Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato is a dense and interesting read. I received an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I would love love love to see this adapted into a documentary series. The book is packed with ideas and it travels the globe. From the spine of the Andes in South America to being the forth most important food in the world, the potato intersects with colonialism, Enlightenment philosophy, economic systems, statecraft, revolutions, and more. Dr. Earle is working with so many strands, and she weaves them deftly into a compelling story that I want Netflix numbers of people to hear it.
Potatoes, however, provide an effective tracer precisely because their penetration into the kitchens of ordinary people does not coincide neatly with their prominence within political discourse. Their sudden elevation within eighteenth-century political discourse throws a spotlight onto new features of modern statecraft. Moreover, because they are such a fantastically successful global foodstuff they allow us to sketch a more global story about the links between everyday diets and the modern state.
By World War Two, the potato had become an important tool for all populations impacted by the war. Governments promoted potato consumption and civilians and soldiers alike latched onto the potato for nutrition when food was scarce.
Soviet peasants, who during the war relied almost entirely on foods they grew themselves, more than doubled their potato consumption. ‘They ate potatoes for breakfast, for lunch and for tea; they ate them all ways – baked, fried, in potato cakes, in soup, but most often simply boiled,’ recalled one Russian.
Dr. Earle also includes a few potato recipes, none with vicodin though. I have no intention of making the Jellied Meat and Potato Salad, though I would love to see it made.
For all it’s density, it’s not a long book. Nearly half the book is footnotes and source citations. If you get nerdy about history and food, this would be a great addition to your library. And someone, please get this in the hands of a producer with Netflix or the BBC.