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Do you want fries with that?

What would you eat and cook differently if you were responsible for all your food from farm to table?

Updated 11/2020

The hotel where I recently stayed for the National Percheron Horse Show (when I was Queen!) was across from the fairgrounds. As we convened for breakfast, we chatted with all kinds of fun people who were also working at or attending the fair. One of the ladies worked in one of the booths that served French fries. We were talking about favorite foods at the fair and so forth.  She then talked about how the person assigned to the deep fryer felt very differently about eating fried food after frying it all day. Mind you, it was in the 90’s with no air conditioning in the booths. It was exceptionally hot.

What if we had to grow, harvest, clean, prep, and cook each item for ourselves?

Let’s take a closer look at these fries. They are a treat. I enjoy them on occasion just like you. But…this is actually not about fries. It is about the process to get to the foods we choose on a daily basis.

making potatoes
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Potatoes are a personal favorite. They are budget friendly and come in several varieties (200+ varieties in the USA!), which means they can provide a whole bunch of easily accessible, yummy nutrition, and they can be served in many ways from casual to formal, simply or in a complex way.  To give a little more background:

Potatoes are a starchy vegetable.

A potato about the size of a computer mouse is considered a 1-cup serving from the vegetable group.

Type/amountCaloriesFiber (grams)Protein (grams)Fat (total, grams)
½ cup baked sweet potatoes90320
1 baked medium russet potato (with skin):170450
1 baked medium red potato (with skin)150340
20 French fries (frozen, oven heated)200~348
frying potatoes
Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Now let’s chat about fat/oil, which of course, we need to fry food: 1 Tablespoon of oil is 120 calories.

Let’s grow our potatoes:

Image by Надежда Мельникова from Pixabay

Pick the type of potato you want to grow.

Wait ‘til after the last frost.

Have enough land to grow rows 3 feet apart.

For now, I’ll skip other essentials like watering, tending to the soil, monitoring the plants, and so on – stuff the farmers do for us every year.

Two to three weeks after the plants stop blossoming you can start to think about harvesting them. First, wait two to three weeks more until after the potato plant foliage has died. Then, you harvest and store them for another 2-3 weeks to help ensure longer storage for use later.

Anyhoo, you get the point – when you want a luscious potato, off you go to the store to shop for one you can make yourself or in one of its glorious forms, skipping all the time and thought to get them to the point to be ready to buy.

I could do a whole other thing about all the cool things that retailers have to think about and manage until we buy them, but that’d be a whole other story.

Let’s say you buy them (not go to a restaurant and order off the menu where a chef will happily and expertly prepare them exactly as you want).  You wash, peel or not peel, then fry. Or bake. Or whatever other glorious thing you want to do.

Which brings us back to that conversation about the fryer duty at the fair.

When we invest our own personal resources, our perception of choice may change.

The point is, eating foods of whatever type whenever we want is now simpler than ever, thanks to the innovation, smarts, and work being done farm to table in the literal sense. So what, you ask? Here’s how you benefit from this: Before you order, picture a movie of that food being made (with you as the star!). What would you do differently if you were the one responsible for all of it, not just ordering it? I’m not saying we can or should grow and raise everything we eat for ourselves. What I am saying is let’s not forget about everything that is done for us when it comes to food. It’s pretty amazing.

Now play this movie game with every single food you like to eat.

Remember to consider what you do to that food in its natural state once you choose what to eat. In this example, one tablespoon of oil is as much as the whole potato itself, basically. And frying takes waaaaaaaay more than one tablespoon.

Now. If you decide that it’s worth the extra calories, that’s okay sometimes. Why? Because you can balance pretty much every choice you make with the other choices during the day and week. So…if your tater choice is fried today, order a baked, grilled, or broiled something else. Get your dressing on the side for your salad, or skip the dressing and ask for salsa (which counts as veggies and has less calories than most dressings).

I call this food math. Time. Budget. Nutrition.

Eating and planning is like a dance. If we think of it this way and learn to focus on each step, the full dance routine (meal) will be just right.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and how it works for you to think like this. (Oh, and yes, this is how I like to think about and approach my food choices, because I like all kinds of different cooking techniques and options, too).

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.