For those of you that don’t know, I competed in the Spud Nation Throwdown in January during the National Potato Expo. The nationwide food truck cooking competition was held at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. Myself along with two other finalists competed for “Top Spud.” Turns out, I won.
It was an interesting experience to cook on stage in front of a thousand people. In addition to the cooking competition, the three of us finalists held a panel talking about consumer preferences and food trucks. The other two food truck owners own trucks that just serve potatoes. My truck, The Organic Gypsy, serves seasonal farm to table fare.
I felt a bit out of my element. Unlike farming conferences I’ve attended and spoken at like Women Food and Agriculture, MOSES, and ACRES, I was in a room of big ag. According to the USDA, potatoes are the number one grown vegetable crop in America. Typically potatoes are grown mostly in monocultures 0n incredibly large farms. Pair this along with the processing done so they store for months without rotting, the potato lands itself in the dirty dozen.
Given that I don’t think french fries should be considered a vegetable on school lunch trays, this put me in a precarious position. At the expo and networking dinners I was alongside lobbyists and very powerful people in the U.S. modern ag sphere.
I got to thinking that the only way things will shift in industry and policy is if both parties meet more in the middle. What really creates change in systems? It felt meaningful to share my insights on consumer preferences such as knowing where their food comes to a room full of the nation’s largest processing plants and lobbyists. Perhaps a more important seat for me to fill rather than at an organic farming conference, bashing those same people in camaraderie. The change and compromise comes when both parties are able to see the other side of the coin from a respectful and nonjudgemental perspective.
I can understand the farmer that is doing things the way they’ve always done things. Making ends meet, fulfilling the status quo in order to survive and keep land. The farmer isn’t bad for planting the potatoes and coincidentally causing pesticide drift. It is the system that breeds the current situation, not the participants.
I was proud to represent the small percentage of people who are already committed to sustainable agriculture. My hope is that both sides can unite and create positive change over time. I won Top Spud alright, but it felt like more a win for healthy food than my recipe.