Potato Power

The Coykendall Science Building auditorium was filled with public visitors and students eager to listen to and digest a lecture on potatoes, presented by Linda Greenow, retired geography professor at SUNY New Paltz.

According to Greenow, myths surround the potato, such as “potatoes are bad for you” and “potatoes are boring.” Of course, fast food french fries and potato chips aren’t going to top any healthy foods list and we usually don’t daydream about the growth cycle of a potato. However, potatoes are a sustainable food source that can provide nutrients and starch, which aides a healthy diet. The potato is also a cornerstone of food security for many households over the world.

For example, the Andean potatoes may be grown in cold climates and are not as susceptible to pests and disease. There is cultivation history and scientific information about the potato that we dismiss when we view them from a consumer standpoint. Many cultures still rely on potatoes as one of their main food sources, including the Andean culture in South America.

The Andean also invests research and preservation of the many different types of potatoes, dedicating The International Potato Center in Peru as an important organization to preserve ancient strains of potato so future generations may still enjoy them. This organization helps to sustain an increased population growth with a limited fertile land supply and land turnover. With modernization in farming technology, they are beginning to seek new means to cultivate traditional potatoes.

History professor Chris Albi agrees that the potato is interesting from an intellectual side.

“I am interested in Latin America and that the potato was a part of the Andes, specifically the Chuno,” he said. What drew him to come to the event was his connection to Professor Greenow and he “likes to support campus events.”

The after event was crowded with audience members and colleagues of Greenow, who were eager to converse with the retired professor and ask more specific questions about her lecture.

“In geography, we study how people use the land, especially foods and agriculture. But I was interested in student’s questions [that led to the potato], so why would we encourage farmers to grow them,” she said of the lecture.

According to her lecture, she also has taken a personal excursion to South America, where she has tried potato meals with native recipes. This leads to the “personal” end of the lecture: how are our economic relationships affected by a potato? In South America, culinary preferences affect local merchants and how they choose to grow which crops. How much commercial property a farmer has to plant large quantities of potatoes can affect the nutrient value of the potato, therefore affecting the health of consumers.

This lecture was self-prepared based on critical thinking and experience, less about research and statistics. Greenow said this type of lecture can cultivate a growth in curious independent thinking and questioning, especially about everyday matters that foster multitudes of economic and social connections which stem down to  basic living habits.

This lecture was a dedication to Dennis O’Keefe, alumnus of SUNY New Paltz 1973 according to Morgan Gwenwald, SUNY New Paltz librarian.

“One of the ways I evaluate this event is to ask myself ‘Would Dennis have enjoyed the lecture?’  In this case I can say he would have loved it.  It was an engaging lecture full of interesting information and presented in a witty and personal way,” Gwenwald said.