Potatoes will shine again
“Maybe a PR job needs to be done on the humble potato,” the president of Food Writers New Zealand, Niki Bezzant, told the conference.
“But maybe that adjective needs changing. Have people fallen out of love with potatoes and what can we do about that?”
Everyone is busy and constantly juggling different demands in their lives, she said.
“They feel the pressure but it’s difficult to know what to eat and the messages are often conflicting.”
Often food is sold as a quick fix or a new thing that will solve all a consumer’s problems. Not only is this confusing but online it is easy for anyone to be an expert and hard for a viewer to discern how credible they are. People are not reading as much as they used to so headlines have a greater impact on social media.
“And there are always people who are attracted to weird diets,” she said.
“Trends come and go. Low carb diets are in vogue now but they have been around for as long as diets.”
When it comes to potatoes, she said there is good news and bad news “but a lot of amazing pluses”.
“It’s a kiwi staple,” she said.
“We eat a lot and it’s always in the top two with tomatoes. People do adore spuds.”
But there are potential image problems for potatoes.
“They’re not camera-ready and pretty in a world of social media where there’s a lot of food porn,” she said. “They aren’t paleo, and while you can eat them if you’re a vegan, you can’t if you’re a raw vegan.”
She described as “carbophobia” people being scared of eating carbohydrates. A hamburger without buns is sad, “but not as sad as potato-free French fries made from chick peas”.
“But people are not necessarily rational about food and what they say and what they do don’t match up.”
Recent research conducted by Fonterra showed that two-thirds of New Zealanders aren’t restricting anything in their diets, but around 8% are restricting carbs, roughly the same amount as say they are gluten-free or meat-free.
“It’s time to celebrate the spud and tell the story of the potato,” she said.
“People want their food natural and unprocessed and they want to hear your story.”
But there is no New Zealand potato grower on Instagram, while there is a quinoa grower who can tell the story of her produce “from ground to grill”.
Diets will continue to come and go, but Bezzant is confident potatoes will have their time to shine again.
“We want to try to inspire people to fall back in love,” she said.
“We can rehabilitate the potato so people see it as far from humble.”
q Niki Bezzant.