US Senators Fight Against Spud Discrimination

While the sweet potato is commonly known as a nutritious vegetable, it seems that its beige-colored cousin has a bad rap on The Hill. In December 2009, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) cut white potatoes from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), making it the only excluded fresh fruit or vegetable. Now, two senators — Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Udall (D-CO) — are standing up for the spud and petitioning for its re-inclusion.   

The WIC provides Federal funding to states in order to support low-income pregnant and postpartum women, as well as infants and children up to five years-old. The aid comes in the form of supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education.

The food package offered in conjunction with the WIC has a wide range of eligible food items, from breakfast cereal and milk to infant formula and medical foods, but each category has a host of restrictions. In many cases, they are smart, nutritious-conscious requirements meant to guide participants' health. For instance, for 100 grams of cereal, there must be at least 28 milligrams of iron and no more than 21.2 grams of sucrose and other sugars.

However, the note that "any variety of fresh or cut vegetable" is eligible "except white potatoes" has sparked some political controversy about produce. According to Senator Collins, "The potato is a wonderfully nutritious food that is inexpensive, easy to transport, has a long storage life, and can be used in a wide array of recipes."

Indeed, the white potato is low in calories (a medium contains only 163), high in potassium, cholesterol-free, fat-free, sodium-free, and full of fiber.

So, what's the USDA's problem? Reportedly, the 2009 rule was based upon a 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report, which uses data decades old. If Collins and Udall's amendment for the Farm Bill goes through, the misconception about white potatoes' value will be effectively mashed, buttered, and put to rest.