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Potato misinformation continues

Potato producers might have thought they’d finally beaten the anti-potato movement


January 31, 2012
By Margaret Land

Potato producers might have thought they’d finally beaten the anti-potato movement with the decrease in hype over the Atkins diet, that “avoid carbohydrates” fad weight-loss method of the mid-2000s. But it would appear the bull’s-eye continues to be pointed at the humble table tuber.

While the U.S. government has required action from the Senate to protect the white potato from being banned from school lunches across the U.S., here in Canada criticism of the starchy vegetable has been pretty quiet. Until now…
At the start of the school year in 2011, school officials at Sir Charles Tupper Elementary School decided they’d seen enough of the tasty tubers in school lunches.

CBC News heard of the issue in early 2012 and, according to the resulting article, the south-end Halifax public school sent home a list of “unwelcome” food items, explaining that these foods could cause life-threatening allergic reactions to some of the students attending the school. While that might make sense for peanuts, tree nuts and eggs, potato and potato products such as potato chips, potato salad, hash browns, fries and mashed potatoes – all included on the list – seemed a bit far-fetched.

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A Toronto Star reporter obviously felt so too and decided to contact the school.

According to principal Paula Hoyt, a student at the school is allergic to “any type of potato vapour.”

According to the CBC article, Dr. Sandy Kapur, a pediatrician with the Halifax Allergy and Asthma Associates, said it’s very rare for a child to have an allergy to cooked potatoes. While raw potato allergies make sense – potatoes are related in part to grass pollens – allergic reactions to cooked potatoes do not.So how rare is it to be allergic to cooked potatoes, especially vapours?

According to the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology – which describe research on a possible allergic reaction to hotdog “vapour” – “asthma induced by the inhalation of food vapours is unusual and indicative of extreme allergy.”

And according to other allergy experts, it is usually found in people allergic to seafood, not potatoes.

Anyway, I digress. What this example shows and what potato producers have been noticing for years is there’s a lot of misinformation in the public about the potato and backlash against the vegetable. As Rosalie Tennison outlines in her article “Stepping up to the plate,” which appears in this issue, “there is a general feeling that better consumer education is needed to keep potatoes on the plates of consumers and make them mindful that potatoes are a healthy food choice. Through no fault of theirs, growers have to fight the perception that potatoes are high in carbohydrates and that french fries are greasy and unhealthy.”

And now they have to fight the perception that potato vapour is dangerous to elementary school children. How did the human race ever survive up to now?


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