Roar: The Podcast | Episode 2: The diversity of potatoes


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Welcome back to Roar: The Podcast! In this episode, sophomore Nathaniel Hekster, sophomore Elias Panou and sophomore Isa Miyauchi-Garde discuss the variety of potato dishes and their diversity. 

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  • Nathaniel Hekster, sophomore at Santa Clara High School
  • Elias Panou, sophomore at Santa Clara High School
  • Isa Miyauchi-Garde, sophomore at Santa Clara High School


Nat: Hello everyone and welcome to Santa Clara High School’s Roar: The Podcast.

Elias: I’m Elias Panou. I’m a sophomore at Santa Clara High School, and I am the opinion section editor for The Roar.

Isa: I’m Isa Miyauchi-Garde. I am a sophomore at Santa Clara High School, and I am a staff writer for the opinion section of The Roar.

Nat: And I am Nathaniel Hekster. I am a sophomore at Santa Clara High School, and I am the Alternative Media editor for The Roar.

Elias: So let’s just go over our pronouns real quickly. I am he/him

Nat: Nat is he/him as well.

Isa: Isa is she/her

Elias: Okay, that’s Great. For our topic today, this is a little bit of an odd topic if you think about it, but we’re gonna get into it and you’re probably going to get into it as well, and we’re gonna have a fun time. We’re gonna discuss potatoes and the culture that kinda surrounds them because potatoes are really really important to different cultures around the world and to different people, and we really thought this is actually an element to food and rich diversity that unites people. So it’s a conversation worth having. Let’s talk a little bit about the history of potatoes first, and we can kinda get an idea of where they came from. Potatoes were first cultivated by native Indians south of the Rio Grande about 8000 BCE, and I think, to be exact, those were Peruvian natives or indigenous people. They only first got introduced to the European people and the rest of the world during the Columbian exchange when Hernán Cortez came about and his colonial army took over and stole over most of South America. During the Columbian exchange, we can see potatoes make their first appearance, which is interesting enough.

Nat: Yeah and since then potatoes have been discovered in many other parts of the world. They seem to (be) extremely diverse and to be very adaptable to the environments that they’re in. NASA has been doing certain studies about growing potatoes on Mars. They believe that the Martian soil – even though it’s barely fertile – Mars in itself is overall a very harsh environment. They believe that potatoes can grow to an amount to where they can feed the astronauts on the Mars colony.

Elias: I guess for more fun facts about the potato: potatoes are the fourth largest stable crop around the world, very important to several different cultures, European, American, Asian, African, and et cetera. We can kind of see here at first what they mean to different cultures.

Isa: You can see the diversity of potatoes even in a single household like mine. I’m Japanese and mixed with a bunch of other stuff like Irish. We make traditional things like – well not that traditional – but we make these things called korokke, which are like potatoes that are smashed and fried, and you can put certain things in it like meat or beans or anything.

Nat: Right, in my household – we are mostly Dutch – we have this type of sort of mashed potatoes called stamppot. Now, I’m unaware of the origins if it’s Dutch, or somewhere else in Europe or perhaps Africa. I could be very inaccurate in that, so don’t take my word. Essentially, potatoes are boiled, mashed and you add carrots to them and you can make them with… I forget the name, but it’s a soy sauce-esque sauce. It’s not just carrots. You can add other stuff, such as kale and other vegetables, to the point where your dinner looks like many European flags with all of the greens, oranges, whites and reds.

Elias: I guess there’s not really much to be said on my behalf. The first thing that automatically comes to my mind nationality-wise in Swedish culture… potatoes are really common. You just boil. There is not really much spice that you add to them. Ethnically, in my family, we just have potatoes. You just roast them, you add olive oil, you add oregano, a little bit of salt, and oftentimes, you accompany other larger meats that you get barbecue spit-roasted, or you can kinda just put them with anything. When they’re nice and roasted, they can accompany a parsley based marinade on a chicken. You can kind of see how people around the world are just getting really creative with this kind of thing.

Nat: Creativity is a big word when you’re talking about dishes from vastly different cultures and different places all over the world. This planet has over seven billion people. Each of which is probably aware of some form of potato recipe. At the very least five billion, and each of these people makes potato recipes in their own way – they add their own little touch to it – and this is how the evolution of food and dishes happens. I don’t know if our audience is aware of Darwinism, but, essentially, the best dishes survive and the bad ones don’t.

Elias: Right now, we can kind of talk about the different types of potatoes. Different types of potatoes taste different. Sir Walter Raliegh first introduced the potato in Londonderry, Ireland back in the 1850s. Those were the russet type of potatoes, and those became an important type of staple crop entirely around Europe. When the immigrants of Northern and the Republic of Ireland came around here, they brought around the russet potato, and there they cultivated more types that’s why things such as Yukon gold potato, the russet potato and sweet potatoes have all become basically important crops around most of the Midwestern U.S. and extending here to the West and Southwest. For example, Idaho, their main export is potatoes, and it’s become such an important part of life and such an important upholding of the economy. What are your favorite types of potatoes?

Isa: Since there’re so many different types of potatoes and ways to make them, it’s definitely hard to choose, but of course there’s super popular ones, like french fries, and even from there, there’s a bunch of different ways to cook them. You can either put them in the oven, or more popularly, air fry them, or fry them in oil. Which are all good of course.

Elias: But really from my point of view unhealthiness never bothered me. We have all lovely types of flavors, and it’s like really – and we’re coming back to creativity here. You can even make ketchup potato chips, salt and vinegar, and jalapeno, and there’s prawn cocktail… I guess you don’t have those here. I miss those. Nat, what are your kind of favorites?

Nat: I’m gonna go basic American and say french fries. Just french fries alone are extremely diverse. 

Taking all the diversity of potatoes themselves and then taking this one type of potato, looking at the different types of varieties: we have thick french fries, we have little skinny ones, we have garlic french fries, and we haven’t even delved into the toppings yet of french fries. Like Elias said, he mentioned ketchup – that’s very popular on french fries. In the Netherlands, we do a lot of mayonnaise on our french fries. This may sound extremely weird and distasteful to those who haven’t heard of it but peanut sauce. It sounds weird I know – I was suspicious when I first heard of it – but it actually tastes good.

Elias: Protecting the staple crops, with the carbon in the air, soil is actually acidifying, and when that happens – again potatoes are very resilient – but there’s a certain threshold that they’re not going to be able to survive in the soil, and they’re not gonna be able to actually be grown. The harvests are going to fail. Even with modern inventions such as pesticides and growth aid, it’s just not going to work. So Nat, what are your thoughts on this?

Nat: As you can see with the Irish potato famine, a country that heavily relied on potatoes to feed its people – I’m unaware of the causes of the crop damage, but it experienced some severe damage, so much so that by the time the famine was over nearly a million people died. This may not seem like a lot by today’s standards, but back then the population was significantly smaller. Even in the 1940s, the world population was like three billion, so a million people made a lot more of a difference than it does today. That’s just one small example. Other countries definitely rely on potatoes (to) some extent. Most countries I would say rely on potatoes to a certain extent to feed their people. Now some countries, especially those that have really fast-growing economies and really healthy, sturdy, big economies will probably be able to recover if climate change were to make potatoes not be able to live on Earth anymore. But like I said, I’m not entirely sure that’s a problem with potatoes specifically just due to their extreme adaptability. There are species of potatoes near the equator that if climate change were to get so bad to the point where those potatoes on the equator wouldn’t be able to survive, you can move them up north or down south to a colder environment. Obviously, we want to try to avoid that kind of situation, and I’m sure we’ll have some other big problems at that. Isa, do you have anything else to say about this?

Isa: I don’t know as much about the history of potatoes as these two super smart guys, but I do know a lot of people really love potatoes, all of the different types, fries, chips, baked potatoes, everything. It’s just a really big part of everybody’s culture, and, as they’ve said, they’re a big deal. It’s important that we try to make sure that they stay healthy and that we’re still able to produce them.

Elias: Thank you, everyone, for your time. I hope you take this as a public service announcement. This is Elias Panou signing off.

Isa: This is Isa Miyauchi-Garde signing off.

Nat: This is Nathaniel Hekster. I hope you had a great time. Signing off.