Sunday, June 5, 2011

You Say Po-TAY-to, I Say Po-TAH-to

When I paint food still life, I like to include a lot of appealing colors, just as I would in any painting. A recent venture that illustrates this tendency is my sunflower painting, "There is Room for All in the Garden". I used a saturated palette inspired by Kandinsky which gave the painting verve and great warmth. During my 30-day self-imposed Lenten discipline of painting my dinners every night, I tried to make sure there was enough color to keep the eye and this artist interested. I don't like brown paintings, and I don't much like brown food, either.

You see before you the one exception: The humble potato. This one is a great big Idaho baker, brown as dirt. Others are red, yellow, gold, pink, and even purple. Most of us, though, if we're being honest, have grown up with one that looks like this.

Now, when Vincent VanGogh wanted to use the potato in his art, in his famous rendering of "The Potato Eaters", he used almost a monochromatic brown palette which evoked the humble status and uninteresting lives of the peasants. Look closely and you realize that he's gone even further, and the people themselves sort of look brown and uninteresting, like the potatoes.

So potatoes have gotten a rather sad reputation. It's no wonder our culture has tried to make them more interesting by deep-frying them, saucing them, drowning them in chili, and otherwise adding unwanted saturated fats and calories. It's too bad, because a whole potato, baked or roasted with its skin on, is a beautiful food. A medium-size 5-ouncer comes equipped with 110 calories, -0- grams of fat, and 26 grams of carbohydrate. It contains 4 grams of dietary fiber, and is a good source of vitamin C. (Source:

On the other hand, Frito Lay peels them, slices them thin, and processes them in hot oil (sunflower, canola, or corn according to the package ingredients). By the time you eat 15 of the chips, so much of the surface area of your serving has been exposed to the deep-fryer that you're loading up 160 calories, 90 of which are from fat. You can say po-tay-to or you can say po-tah-to, whichever you prefer, but you can't say that they're beautiful food any longer. In fact, it's somewhat of a question whether they're still even vegetables by this point.

Anyway, I suppose since one point of this series is to wonder aloud about what our food is doing to sustain us and enrich our lives, I feel thankful for the humble brown potato and its hidden inner beauty. It certainly has a place in a healthy diet! But it's worth remembering that we pay a price every time we drive through and super-size our fries or eat half the bag of chips. I bet you really can't eat just one! Of course, there's this piece of logic from my husband Dan: A serving of potato chips once a week isn't going to kill you...

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