Baby Baked Potatoes

The price of potatoes

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You may have seen the recent kerfuffle about the price of butter. Our favourite fat, it seems, is at a record high price – $5.39 for a 500g block, up significantly from previous years.

This was part of Statistics New Zealand’s Food Price Index, which tracks the price of food from month to month. The information they release routinely generates slightly hysterical media coverage, usually with a tone of “food prices reach outrageous levels”, often with a side implication that healthy food – mostly fruit and vegetables – is becoming too expensive for average kiwis to afford.

The recent release was no different. Butter got all the attention, but potatoes were also highlighted. The price for a kilogram of potatoes was $2.12 in August 2017, compared with $1.94 in July 2017, and $1.63 in August 2016. This was put down to poor weather during the year. Statistics NZ’s Matthew Haigh said “the exceptionally wet weather over the past year has had an impact on growing tuber vegetables such as potatoes and kumara…the crop losses and extra manual work required for harvesting has translated into higher prices on supermarket shelves.”

It’s good to see the dots being joined between the demands of growing something and the price of that thing. It doesn’t always happen; the Food Price Index releases are often covered in newspapers and online in a way that appears completely ignorant of seasonality. Of course tomatoes are more expensive in August than they are in January; it takes a lot more resources to grow them when they’re naturally out of season. That – and the fact that they taste pretty average in winter – is why I don’t buy tomatoes for several months when it’s cold. It seems many people don’t actually understand – or care – about seasonality though. Tomatoes topped the pops again (just) over potatoes as the most-purchased vegetable in NZ last year. We’re blithely buying them all year round despite how they taste and how much they cost.

Potatoes are a bit different. I, along with most kiwis, clearly, buy spuds all year round. It rarely occurs to me that there are seasons for them. But of course, there are. And it is worth celebrating them. It’s really good to hear Potatoes NZ plans on promoting the new potato, this year. I think in foodie circles, new potatoes are a ‘thing’. The Jersey Benne even gets a shout out on menus. But outside of that, there’s probably a job to be done to educate people and get them excited about potatoes as seasonal treats. Look how excited we all get about feijoas or asparagus. Wouldn’t it be great if people got that enthused about spuds?

It seems to me there’s education to be done on seasonal changes in potatoes, too; the way the same spud can have different textures and cooking properties as time goes on. This feeds into the whole waxy/floury/all-purpose discussion, which clearly needs to be ongoing.

They may be one of our favourite veges, but Kiwis still have much to learn about potatoes.