Potato Becomes New Hampshire's State Vegetable

You can't dance around such important decisions as these.



I had just picked up my copy of the Union Leader one morning when I noticed a story about a bill, passed overwhelmingly by the New Hampshire House, to officially declare the potato our state vegetable. A few minutes later I received an e-mail, offering a way to lower my blood pressure “naturally.” I thought it might be to stop reading the newspaper, but it was some other, less-useful suggestion. 

The story told of how the humble potato was borne here from Ireland in 1719, via seeds carried by the Rev. James MacGregor, who planted them in the town now known as Derry (then a part of the township of  Nutfield) in a field close to where the Derry Village School now stands. Students at the school discovered all that while researching the origins of the white potato in North America. The students were in the gallery when the House debated the potato bill, or the Spud Saga, if you prefer.

Yes, they actually debated the thing. Rep. John O’Connor, a Derry Republican, recalled the fine Irish ancestry of the noble potato and its pilgrimage across the Atlantic to Derry, where it enjoyed a new birth in freedom for the people of colonial America. Rep. James Parison, a nutrition-minded Republican from New Ipswich, objected, arguing that broccoli was more worthy of state vegetable status. Bestowing that honor on the “white potato,” he said  —  whether seriously or in jest is not clear  — “sends a bad message to our children, who should grow up knowing good food should be dark green and taste terrible.”  A left-handed compliment at best to the proud broccoli plant. 

"Substituting the dark-green broccoli for the bland white potato might give the state an aura of diversity."

Still, the gentleman has a point about the “white” and “dark” of it. One of the objections commonly made to New Hampshire having the lead-off presidential primary every four years is that our population, being overwhelmingly Caucasian, is not diverse enough to reflect the wants and needs of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic nation. Substituting the dark-green broccoli for the bland white potato might give the state an aura of cultural and vegetable diversity.

The bill itself requires no expenditure from the public treasury, there being therein no authorization for subsidies to either potato or broccoli growers. Still, the legacy of the late Fran Riley comes to mind.

Rep. Riley, a Manchester Republican, was a newcomer to the Legislature when, in 1990 or sometime thereabouts, she introduced a bill to name the square dance the official state dance. We already had, after all, an official state flower (the purple lilac), a state bird (the purple finch) and a state amphibian (the red-spotted newt). So why not a state dance?

 Then Donn Tibbets of the Union Leader did an article about how much it cost Legislative Services to do the research, drafting and printing of a bill, and Rep. Riley, a proud fiscal conservative, was duly shocked. Considering all those dollars for the “do sa do,” she repented of her spendthrift ways and withdrew the bill.

 Rep. O’Connor might consider doing the same with his special pleading for the spud. He need not don sackcloth and ashes. He might simply announce his decision with a pithy statement like, “ I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.”

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