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Humble potato forges bipartisan unity

Published on May 27, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on June 24, 2011 7:38AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem to be at odds on almost every major issue facing the country.

Agreement on spending and the debt seems unlikely. Immigration? Probably not. Entitlement reform? Forget about it. Cap and trade? Thankfully, no.

Is bipartisanship dead? There were signs this month that an obituary would be premature.

What has united Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals? Potatoes.

It's no secret that the lowly tuber has been under attack in the nation's capital in recent years. Advocacy groups have waged campaigns to limit potatoes in our diets, blaming spuds for the nation's obesity epidemic. And in the USDA they have found a willing ally. The potato isn't among the foods that can be purchased with vouchers from the Women, Infant and Children nutrition program. The USDA has proposed limiting the amount of potatoes served in the subsidized school lunch program.

The rough treatment the potato has received has struck a nerve with legislators of all stripes who hail from spud-producing states. Forty Republican and Democratic lawmakers have sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack questioning the department's proposal. They argue that the potato is a cheap and wholesome source of fiber, vitamins and other important nutrients that should be at the full disposal of cash-strapped school lunch rooms.

"It's a great vegetable and I don't know why we are picking on the potato," Rep. Jean Schmidt, a conservative Republican from Ohio, told The Associated Press. "I think this is very much an overreach."

The government, she and other signers say, should be content with establishing general nutritional guidelines instead of providing specific mandates as to what can and cannot be served.

Rep. Bill Owens, a liberal Democrat from New York, agrees. "I don't think that's what the federal government should be doing in general," he said.

We think Americans young and old should include a variety of vegetables in their diets. Carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce -- and all other manner of produce -- are all grown by American farmers, and God bless each and every one. It's the restriction of one vegetable, particularly one so versatile and readily consumed by hungry children, that we oppose. And so do the 40 who signed the letter.

The potato: nutritious, delicious, catalyst for bipartisanship. There is no end to its utility.


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