Voigt finishes all-potato diet
By MATTHEW WEAVER
MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- Chris Voigt slid down a hallway filled with mashed potatoes, tried to dye his hair purple and scalded the bottoms of his feet.
All in the name of potatoes.
And, oh yeah, for 60 days straight the head of the Washington Potato Commission ate only spuds to demonstrate the nutritional value of his favorite food.
Nov. 29 marked the final day of Voigt's diet. He emerged on Nov. 30 in good health, about 21 pounds lighter and with healthier cholesterol and glucose levels than when he started.
Voigt doesn't recommend an exclusive potato diet. He intended it to be a form of personal protest, to speak up for a food he felt has been unfairly maligned by fad diets and by two federal nutrition programs, which banned potatoes.
Voigt wanted to bring attention to the exclusion of potatoes in school lunch programs and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service's Women, Infant and Children program.
Voigt considers the diet a success. He received international press attention -- "more publicity than I ever dreamed of" -- and was able to fight the misperceptions of potatoes as fattening and only starch.
Now he intends to focus on getting the USDA to reverse its decision by including potatoes in the WIC program. He expects to meet with USDA representatives in Washington, D.C., and work with Washington's congressional delegation.
National Potato Council leaders told him his diet has created new momentum for the issue.
John Keeling, CEO of the council, said Voigt's approach provided a clear-cut way for people to focus on areas where public policy is ignoring the importance of potatoes in the diet.
"Of the nutrients that were identified as being deficient on the part of WIC mothers, potatoes provide a significant part of those," Keeling said. "On the one hand, you say they need more of these nutrients. On the other hand, you take away the product that goes the longest way to providing them."
The National Academies of Science's Institute of Medicine recommended more green, leafy vegetables and orange vegetables for WIC recipients. The WIC package reflects those things pregnant mothers and their children did not eat enough of, said USDA Food and Nutrition Services spokesperson Jean Daniel.
Because some WIC recipients already eat potatoes, they was dropped from the list.
However, tortillas and some breakfast cereals are included, according to WIC lists provided by several states.
Other items covered on the WIC program include whole-grain and non-whole grain cereals, long-grain brown rice, frozen vegetables without butter or cheese -- frozen potatoes are not included -- and corn or whole-wheat tortillas. Yams and sweet potatoes are the only tubers included.
"We're not saying the potato is inferior," Daniel said. "It's not saying anything bad about white potatoes. The new food package is targeted very specifically at nutrients and food items participants are not eating enough of."
Voigt said science is on his side of the argument.
"The potato shouldn't be the only produce item kicked out of a nutrition program," he said. "If you're telling people you can use your federal dollars to buy any produce item you want except potatoes, that's a red flag for consumers, saying potatoes must be unhealthy then."
To mark the end of his diet, Voigt planned to share a meal with Head Start of Moses Lake during its Family Festival the evening of Nov. 30.
The menu included locally grown beef, whole-grain pita or tortilla bread, apples and milk.