It’s a good thing Chris Voigt loves potatoes. Really, really loves potatoes. Because in about a week, the executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission is going to go on a potatoes-only diet. For 60 days straight, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 29, Voigt is going to eat only potatoes.
There won’t be any broccoli and cheese on top. Or sour cream. Or butter. Or anything, save for a few spices. Oh, and he can cook them in a little oil. Whew, saved by the fries! But that last bit, the oil, is only because he has to. Seriously, when he contacted nutrition experts about the feasibility of such a diet, the main concern they had was that there wasn’t any fat. People need a certain amount of fat to survive – most of us obviously never come close to that minimum nor were aware it even existed – and cooking some of the potatoes in oil will do the trick.
After learning of the diet, GrowingProduce.com tried to reach Voigt at the commission’s Moses Lake offices, but found he was traveling on business. He called us back from a hotel near the Canadian border where he planning an experiment that very night. The business travel – and he does quite a bit of it to do his job – means he spends a lot of time in hotel rooms. So Tuesday night he was going to perform a test on the coffee pot in his room to see if it was capable of preparing potatoes. He had even selected a variety, a small red spud, for the test.
If you want to know how he fared, you can probably find the answer in the next few weeks at the website Voigt has established for his mission: 20potatoesaday.com. He’ll be writing a blog, posting videos and providing all sorts of diet facts about potatoes. In the meantime, he was nice enough to answer a few questions from GrowingProduce.com.
GP: Why are you doing this? We assume it’s to show how nutritious potatoes are, but are there any other reasons?
Voigt says potatoes, over course of last few decades, have taken a hit. People have forgotten how nutritious potatoes are. They have the fiber of oatmeal and the vitamins of broccoli, he says, and he doesn’t think there are a lot of food products that could make that claim. “I wanted to make a point,” he says, “and thought the best way to do it was to go on this crazy goofy diet.”
As mentioned above, he ran the idea by a dietician. She was only concerned that there was no fat in the diet. Thus the cooking oil. Nutritionally, as far as vitamins and minerals, he’s good to go. Many people have asked if he’s concerned about not getting enough protein. But what they don’t realize is that with 20 potatoes a day, he’s getting 130% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein. The potassium will be high, at 350%. And at 900% of the RDA, the Vitamin C will be sky high.
However, he’s been told the high Vitamin C level is no problem. The only concern is that if he has any kidney problems, the high potassium might be worrisome. So he’s going in for a physical exam Friday just to check his kidneys. He’s not concerned because he’s in good physical shape and the human body is normally pretty good about regulating potassium. “The nutritionist said the biggest problem I will face is boredom, the psychology of it,” he says. “Physically it’s not a problem, but it’s going to maybe be a small problem mentally. But the Irish did OK.”
GP: Is it partly because the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a federally-funded health and nutrition program, dropped potatoes because they thought people were already getting enough?
Yes, Voigt said his motivation is tied to the decision on the WIC program. Also, he says the Institute of Medicine wrote a report saying WIC participants should be able to buy fruits and veggies except for potatoes. But in the report, it says nothing about why potatoes were left out. After he and others at the commission followed up, they found that the reasoning was that potatoes were inexpensive and that the women were already buying them, so why use WIC dollars if they’re already buying?
But Voigt takes exception to that reasoning, noting that inexpensive fruits like bananas aren’t excluded. He also takes exception to the fact that school lunch programs are capping consumption of starchy vegetables like potatoes. “People have forgotten that there’s more to potatoes than starch,” he says. “And anyway starch is a complex carbohydrate – there’s nothing wrong with it.”
As for the “Aha” moment when he actually got the idea for the diet, Voigt says he was at home watching the movie “Stand By Me,” which is about young boys growing up. There’s a scene where they are out around a campfire, and they start talking about what they would eat if they could only eat one food. One kid says cherry-flavored PEZ. Voigt says that’s when the lighbulb flashed. “I thought,” Voigt says, “potatoes would be a perfect fit for that.”
GP: What have your colleagues at the commission office – or the commissioners themselves – said? If you’re married, what does your wife have to say?
As you might guess, everybody pretty much felt that Voigt was crazy. Besides being crazy, his staff was concerned that he’d be grumpy the whole time and take it out on them. The commissioners, who are of course growers, worried about his health. They knew potatoes were healthy, but they didn’t know it could be a person’s sole foodstuff. Now everyone’s on board with his “out of the box” thinking. All the people at the office are tossing out all kinds of ideas for videos, etc. to post on the website.
Voigt also said he knows there are some people out there, “the morbid crowd,” as he cheerfully terms them, who will check the website to see if something goes wrong with him, or he puts on a lot of weight. But he’s not worried. In fact, to further bolster his argument, he’ll be posting his blood pressure, weight, even the results of blood tests. “We’ll be very transparent,” he says. “It will be fun, but it will also be educational.”
And yes, Voigt is married. And as you can probably guess, his wife thought he was crazy too. She teaches high school part-time, and one of her classes is making a project out of her husband’s adventure. She’s also a foodie, so she’s researching various spices. That’s the good news, because then his diet will at least have a little variability. The downside is that she’s also warned him that not only will she not be taking part, she and the kids – they have two, 8 and 6 – will still be going out with him for pizza. “I’ll just have to find a pizza place that serves fries,” says Voigt.
His real concern is his frequent travel. As mentioned above, he’s already planning how to handle the hotel rooms. He’s not too worried about restaurants, as after all, most restaurants serve potatoes in many ways. His real concern lies with those long coast-to-coast flights he has to make to Washington, DC. But he thinks he has a solution for that too. “I’m going to get hot water from flight attendant to mix with my dehydrated potatoes.”
GP: We notice that the 60 days covers Thanksgiving. Are you really going to be able to sit at the table eating only spuds when your family/friends tucks into turkey, gravy etc?
Thanksgiving is a big deal in his family, says Voigt. He has five brothers and sisters, and all the families get together for a giant feast. Luckily, he has an understanding sister who has already informed him that she will make three different potato dishes just for him. But because she doesn’t want him to feel envious as he watches them consume turkey, gravy and the like, she’s going to set up a separate card table for him on the deck. “There will be an adults’ table, a kids’ table, and also a potato table,” says Voigt with a laugh.
GP: Have you thought about what you’re going to eat on your first day off your diet, Nov. 30?
“Thanksgiving,” he says without hesitation. “My wife will prepare the whole thing again for me.”