Saturday, May 5, 2012

One potato, two potato, . . .

There's a field of research called "auxology" that studies two things you might not think are related:  peoples' heights, on the one hand, and average economic well-being, on the other.  The general idea is that if all other things are equal, a rich society is going to be taller than a poor society.  All other things aren't ever equal of course, but in broad generalities, the connection between wealth and health means that economic growth is an indicator of human growth, and vice versa.

The exceptions are notable and noteworthy.  One of the most studied exceptions comes from Ireland in the early 1800's.  The country was poor -- very poor.  There wasn't a lot of work.  And yet people there were tall.  Why were they so tall when they were so poor?  The cows in Ireland produced cheese and butter for the wealthy British, but the parts of the milk that could spoil easily stayed in Ireland.  Add those milk-leftovers to potatoes, and you've got a healthy meal, complete with most of the vitamins and protein you need.  As one article I read on the subject wrote,
High stature [height] of poor Irish in pre-famine Ireland is associated with their nutritious potato diet, lower work effort and relative isolation that reduced spread of diseases.
The fact that one-third of the population was "entirely dependent on potatoes" led to the Great Potato Famine, in which more than one million people died.  Okay, so mono-crops are really not a good idea.  That's an important lesson.

But another important lesson is that, if there's not a potato blight, then these humble roots are healthful enough to keep an entire island alive and thriving.  And if it's good enough for Ireland, it's good enough for me.  Our family loves meat-and-potatoes.  Our family also loves potatoes-and-meat.  Or even potatoes-and-cheese.  Or even just plain old potatoes.

Here's one of my favorite ways to cook potatoes.
  1. Grab a big, clean plastic bag.  
  2. Add 1/4 flour, another 1/4 crunchy stuff (cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, oats, whatever).  
  3. Add spices (oregano, parseley, chives, salt, pepper, whatever)
  4. Wash 5-10 potatoes and cut into 1/2" cubes.  Toss them in the bag, too.
  5. Add about 1Tbsp to 1/4 cup oil.
  6. Shake everything up.  Place potato mix (without the plastic bag) on a greased sheet.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for a half-hour or so, stirring once or twice.
Serve with salsa.  Makes great breakfast leftovers, too.  If it lasts that long.

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