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The Tentacle


August 17, 2011

Let them eat potatoes

Kevin E. Dayhoff

It was quite fascinating recently to read an article about urban foragers who are scavenging for food at abandoned homes. If it isn’t a manifestation of the chaotic behavior of the butterfly effect at the beginnings of economic chaos theory, it is missing a good chance.

 

The article appeared in The New York Times. “At Vacant Homes, Foraging for Fruit – Some urban foragers have turned their focus to the produce ready to be picked at abandoned or foreclosed homes.”

 

At the risk of appearing to begin a stream of consciousness, abstract non-associative rumination–Jack Kerouac-style column, the article spontaneously got me to thinking about potatoes and the French Biodynamic Intensive Agricultural System. I will always remember Truman Capote’s commentary on Mr. Kerouac’s writing – “That's not writing, that's typing."

 

But anyway, here’s my attempt to explain.

 

To begin with, I will advocate that economically, things are not looking good for the home planet, and I will glibly suggest, tongue-in-cheek, that there is no better time to start learning how to grow potatoes.

 

My last number of columns have all concentrated on economics, “Turn off the faucet…and the lights,” “Avoiding Debtmageddon,” “Celebrating Another ‘Recover Summer’,” and economic history, “Mr. Jefferson’s Dinner Deal.”

 

In a continuation of that theme, I will venture to say that as far as the economy goes – if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.

 

If you are looking for economic policy relief to result from the November 2012 presidential election, I’ve got a surprise for you. At this point; in spite of his current political malaise, all indications point in the direction that Steve Berryman is correct and President Obama will win his bid for re-election. Thus, we are in for a second term of social welfare Democratic Party economic public policy.

 

It’s time to get real and concentrate all our efforts on gaining a Republican filibuster-proof U.S. Senate and maintain a GOP majority in the House of Representatives.

 

So, at this point, what the heckfire does this have to do with the French Biodynamic Intensive Agricultural System – and potatoes?

 

I guess I could have written that now is the time to remember the French Biodynamic Intensive Agricultural System, but you would have rolled your eyes and not remembered that for a minute. However, “let them eat potatoes” is somewhat catchy in kibitz kind of way.

 

I am well aware that the biodynamic/French intensive method was popularized by the English gardening guru Alan Chadwick around 1966, who expounded upon the 1924 work of Rudolph Steiner.

 

There are also loose links and references to the agricultural systems developed in Europe in the 18th Century. Some writers will acknowledge the technique used to grow a large amount of food on very small urban community plots of land, as implemented by the Mayans and especially the Chinese.

 

However, I have always associated the roots of the French (Parisian) intensive method with the economic chaos as a result of the anarchy of the French Revolution, 1789-1799.

 

Many will simplistically suggest that the French Revolution was caused by the failed economic policies of Louis XVI – not a relative of President Barack Obama – or even blame the French government going bankrupt because of its economic and military aid to the colonies during the American Revolution.

 

All that played key and important roles; however, the immediate impetus was the huge agricultural famine of the winter of 1788-1789.

 

“The Laki volcanic fissure in southern Iceland erupted over an eight-month period from June 8, 1783, to February 1784,” according to many historical accounts, most notably a recent article in the Guardian by Greg Neale.

 

The result was a “haze of dust and sulphur particles thrown up by the volcano (that) was carried over much of the northern hemisphere… Crops were affected as the fall-out from the continuing eruption coincided with an abnormally hot summer.”

 

By 1789, the result was a complete pan-European agricultural failure and the resulting breakdown of the delivery systems for foodstuffs, which caused economic chaos.

 

According to multiple accounts, especially Susan Kerr, writing for eHow, the “catastrophe caused the price of bread to rise nearly 90 percent in one year; many found themselves working to keep the requisite two loaves of bread on the table. There was nothing left over to pay for anything else.”

 

In order to feed themselves, especially in Paris, the citizenry resorted to growing as much food as possible on small backyard plots of land.

 

As for potatoes, according to an article by Jeff Chapman in History Magazine, “a 1771 paper from the Faculté de Paris (testified) that the potato was not harmful but beneficial…”

 

“Potatoes did not become a staple until … the food shortages associated with the (English, American and French) Revolutionary Wars…,” observes Mr. Chapman. In part because after France declared war on April 20, 1792, against the Austrians and subsequently, Prussia, “the potato slowly gained ground in eastern France (where it was often the only crop remaining after marauding soldiers plundered wheat fields and vineyards), it did not achieve widespread acceptance until the late 1700s.”

 

Although it is well known that Marie Antoinette never really said, “Let them eat cake,” more research is needed to determine if first lady Michelle Obama ever said, “let them eat potatoes” after she launched her White House (biodynamic intensive?) garden initiative on January 20, 2010.

 

The real question is: In lieu of the fact that Mrs. Obama is probably more qualified to be president than her husband and since she knows more about President Obama’s economic policies than anyone, just why was her first major public initiative to start a small community garden to grow food in the backyard of the White House?

 

What does she know that we don’t know?

 

Perhaps we all should have started an Obama Biodynamic Intensive garden chock full of potatoes the day her husband was sworn into office.

 

. . . . .I’m just saying…

 

kevindayhoff@gmail.com

 



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