Thursday, August 5, 2010

August Food Month: You Say Potato

During August, we are highlighting food from around the world and Kiva entrepreneurs who are using their loans for food-related endeavors. We begin with the potato...

It’s easy to take the potato for granted. There seems to be a plethora of ways of preparing this modest tuber (underground part of a vegetable) be it mashed, scalloped, boiled, baked or of course, as French fries. A resilient crop, it is grown all over the world and is, in some countries, one of the only fresh vegetables that can withstand cold climates.

But how did the potato leave its Andean origins and spread all over the world?

Although potatoes are commonly associated with the agricultural traditions of many European countries (particularly Ireland and Central and Eastern Europe), they are originally from southern Peru where the inhabitants of this mountainous region have been eating potatoes for over 2000 years. Not only is it an inexpensive, substantial and versatile food source (there are 3000 varieties in Peru alone), it has been included in ceremonies and embedded itself in cultural traditions like the “Pachamanca” (Learn more). In fact, Incas once worshiped potatoes and even buried them with their dead.

Potatoes began their circumnavigation of the globe when Spanish colonists initially brought them back to Europe from South America. They eventually made their way to Southeast Asia and Africa, and ultimately to the United States in the mid-19th century where they are now prevalent in many American dishes.

So look for the Kiva entrepreneurs who rely on potatoes and farming for their businesses. Lending to them could help the potato continue its worldwide popularity, both in its ancestral South American home or its adopted lands.