SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Potatoes USA is ending its investment in and association with the Culinary Institute of America.
Blair Richardson, president and CEO of Potatoes USA, announced the group’s decision in an Aug. 30 update at the Idaho Growers Shipper Association convention. He said the decision wasn’t easy but was ultimately necessary because of anti-potato messaging from the culinary group, a nonprofit that helps train chefs.
“We’ve been partners with the CIA for well over a decade, we have spent well over a million dollars with this program — and in the past year we have spent $100,000 with the Culinary Institute of America,” Richardson said.
The CIA can be an effective organization to reach culinary professionals relating to menu trends, but Richardson said its Menus of Change initiative is anti-potato and anti-agriculture. The initiative is a partnership between the CIA and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. According to its website, Menus of Change “works to realize a long-term, practical vision integrating optimal nutrition and public health, environmental stewardship and restoration, and social responsibility concerns within the foodservice industry and the culinary profession.”
However, Richardson the initiative advises to “limit” potato consumption because of fries and chips. The initiative also has put out anti-dairy, anti-pork and anti-beef messages, he said.
Potatoes USA represents all forms of potatoes, from fresh to frozen French fries, dehydrated potato products and potatoes for chipping.
Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard, has led research over the years that Richardson says has been anti-potato, suggesting that potato consumption leads to obesity, diabetes and other health problems.
After being a sponsor for the Menus of Change program for a couple of years and working to tell the nutrition story of the potato — without a satisfactory response — Potatoes USA has decided to pull out of the program, he said.
Richardson said he has argued with Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at The Culinary Institute of America, that the disparaging message from Menus of Change was not warranted by science. Potatoes USA submitted extensive research showing the health benefits of potatoes, he said.
“Their position is that french fries and potato chips are evil things in our world, and that’s not exactly something that any of us wants to live with,” Richardson said.
Richardson said potato chips are a snack food and comparing them to leafy greens in dietary studies is illogical. Instead, comparing potato chips with a Snickers bar or popcorn would demonstrate the value of chips.
Potatoes have seven out of ten nutrients that people need more of, he said.
In the end, Richardson said Potatoes USA has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rule that no commodity board should be allowed to fund Menus of Change if the initiative disparages potatoes, dairy or other commodities. Richardson said the USDA has a rule that no commodity board program can disparage another commodity, The USDA is reviewing that request at the administrative level, he said.
“In my opinion, no commodity board should to be able to work in an organization is taking their dollars and saying potatoes are bad.”
“For now, we’re encouraging all agricultural organizations to pull away from funding these types of messages,” he said.
Richardson said Potatoes USA continues to invest in the foodservice segment and is looking at expanding its work with Johnson and Wales, a culinary school with several campuses across the U.S.