Biodiversity in crops is rapidly decreasing throughout the world. As we choose vegetable species based on conformity or their ability to travel well, we sometimes can lose out on the depth of flavor or the individual nuisances present in different varieties. Those “other” varieties end up not being planted from year to year and slowly go extinct, losing that flavor profile forever. Another issue with lack of biodiversity lies in our vulnerability to diseases. When the potato famine hit Ireland in 1845, it killed over one million people during its six years of terror. The potato had become a staple crop and a regular at family meals. When families dug up their potatoes, they found a black, rotted mess and were unable to provide food for their families. Each year, each crop produced the same results and the situation was hopeless. Through biodiversity, other potatoes have been discovered in the Andes that are resistant to the fungus that plagued Ireland for six very long years. What if we had destroyed all of those of potatoes, what if they were no longer available? What would have happened then?
In class, we talk often about the importance of biodiversity to our future. As we were chatting this week, we were told that at one point there were 2,400 species of potatoes in the world now we have just under 400. That is 2,000 species that we will never get to try, that we will never know what keys they hold and 2,000 flavors that will never be experienced. (Now granted, wild potatoes actually possessed toxic compounds. The mountain people of the Andes would dunk wild potatoes in a “gravy” made of clay and water. The fine clay particles absorbed the toxins, allowing people to pass the toxins out of their systems with little difficulty. Not sure many people want to go back to those wild potatoes dunked in “gravy”) None the less, the loss of varieties is staggering and potatoes are just one example. So what do we do about it?
We embrace biodiversity. We don’t just look for the “perfect” looking apple or tomato we reach for the local one, the heritage variety. We search out seed sharing programs in our community and try our hand in an heirloom garden. We view the Ark of Taste list (a list of over 1,100 products that are at risk of extinction) and we purchase them when we can. And when we find a product that is local, or unique to us, we celebrate it.
I found a potato at the farmers market that was local, funky, and a gnarled shape I had never seen before. To celebrate that beautiful potato, I made it in the best way I know how, skillet fried. It was beautiful, soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, the perfect embodiment of potatoes. All I could do was raise my fork to the last 400 varieties, may my kids be lucky enough to try them all.
Skillet Fried Potatoes:
Salt and pepper
Chop potatoes into small uniform cubes. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add potatoes and cook until al dente. Remove from water and pat dry.
Bring a skillet with a small amount of oil to medium-high heat. Add potatoes and crisp on all sides until golden brown. Remove from heat and toss with herbs, salt, and pepper and enjoy.