Famous potatoes


Organic russet potatoes (photo by Steve Caruso)

Organic russet potatoes (photo by Steve Caruso)

The other day, on my way to D.C., I drove behind a car with Idaho plates. The Idaho license plate is quite beautiful really. A kind of red and white sky, and blue mountains and pine trees at the bottom. The slogan – “Famous Potatoes.”

Famous potatoes indeed.

The license plate claim got me to thinking. It’s possibly the first license plate I’ve noticed that isn’t boasting something historic or patriotic. It also states the obvious. Who doesn’t know that Idaho potatoes are from Idaho?

I did some checking. This took me, among others, to the website of the Idaho Potato Commission, where I found areas such as “Farmer Poetry,” “Easter Egg Potatoes,” and low-cal recipes using, uh, potatoes.

Turns out the potato is America’s favorite vegetable.

Yet, still, this license plate claim kept haunting me with its simplicity and humility.

One of my heroes has always been Luther Burbank, who in the late 1800s persistently tried to develop a successful potato. He searched and searched, and found a hearty root ball from a disappointing variety that had 23 other seeds, seeds that he thought just might grow successfully. He was rewarded with the Russet Burbank. This is the potato he eventually introduced to California and the Northwest region. Practically every potato grown in Idaho is the Russet Burbank, actually first nurtured by the Presbyterian minister Burbank in New England, mutated in Colorado, and made famous by climates like the Snake River Valley. Eventually, the Burbank potato was exported to help Ireland recover from the Great Famine.

Idaho does grow more potatoes than any other state, but not by much. Washington’s spud count is close. They also grow the same potato that Idaho does. Most potato growers do.

So, back to this license plate. It didn’t say “most potatoes,” because that might change. It didn’t say, “Our potatoes,” or “Best potatoes,” because, well, russets are grown, mashed, baked, and fried in a lot of states. It simply said “famous potatoes.” Which is true.

Maybe I’m beating this potato into the ground.

It’s good when you’re advertising to tell the truth. Not with hyperbole. One of my favorite ad campaigns is from the 50s. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Not “best,” not “great,” not “fabulous.” Good. It was an incredibly successful campaign, in spite of an ad copywriter’s perversion of language. (After this campaign, “like” began to replace “such as” to the chagrin of English teachers across America. But I digress. My brain is a junkyard.)

So, I think we’d all do well to remember “famous potatoes” when we’re selling ourselves. We may not necessarily be the best at what we do. We may not have invented anything. In fact, it’s likely that we have competition at every turn.

But we do each have a talent (or more) that we’re good at. Maybe even a talent that we’re superlative at or famous for.

About myself, I’d say “famous junkyard mind,” or “good scriptwriter” or, simply, “loves her mother.” True, true, true. I’ve got a root ball and some seeds that I’ve grown successfully. Maybe even 23 of them.

And you? What are your famous potatoes?

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