Earlier this month, one of our diary writers brought us the news that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato. The idea is that people should spend 2008 dedicating themselves to “raise awareness of the importance of the potato – and of agriculture in general – in addressing issues of global concern, including hunger, poverty and threats to the environment.”
Potatoes are an important part of people’s diets around the world, and I can personally testify that they are yummy, but how does holding an International Year of the Potato help? There’s some very clumsy potato boosterism at the site, including a video that declares, “The honest potato is the top crop after rice, white and maize.”
The honest potato? Is asparagus dishonest? What about peanuts? Are they… you know… peanuts?
Besides, I’m not so sure that the honest potato is really all that honest. According to the web site, the International Year of the Potato was actually launched by the United Nations on 18 October, 2007. That’s a two and half month head start! Clear cheating.
So far, one month into the International Year of the Potato, I don’t see any opportunities for true potato activism on the Year of the Potato web site. I could appreciate the effort more, perhaps, if we were given information about how to protect the genetic diversity of the potato by growing rare varieties in our backyard gardens.
All I can find is a kids page. The kids’ page starts out by declaring that “Recent research indicates that the first potatoes were cultivated near Lake Titicaca.” I don’t know who the super geniuses are behind the International Year of the Potato, but telling kids first thing that potatoes come from Lake Titicaca is definitely not getting off on the right foot.
I do appreciate the instructional page about how to grow potatoes in a 20-inch bucket – something anyone with even just a small porch or balcony could do. Growing our own food is a very important human activity.
Beyond that, however, the International Year of the Potato seems simply dedicated to getting people to appreciate potatoes.
There is an alternative. The International Coral Reef Initiative has declared 2008 to be the International Year of the Reef. Here in the United States, the International Year of the Reef has the support of the Departments of Commerce and State, as well as the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
The Year of the Reef has a lot more activities than the Year of the Potato, although some of them are still rather vague, such as “Organise a coral reef competition” and unrealistic, such as “Invite a celebrity who is interested in coral reef to be a IYOR Ambassador. Use their status to increase public awareness of coral reefs.” I’ll put that last one on my to-do list right next to “convince a billionaire to pay for our public school operation for the rest of the year”.
Still, whether it’s for the potato or for coral reefs, the main responsibility for activism lies with us. We shouldn’t wait for the United Nations or International Coral Reef Initiative to tell us what we should do to protect potato diversity or coral reef integrity. We need to come up with our own ideas.
As for me, I’m combining the two causes into one. I hereby declare 2008 to be the International Year of the Reef Potato.
Have you never heard of the reef potato? It’s like an ordinary potato, except it lives in the ocean, and it’s much, much more dangerous.