Green is not always healthy

As a final caution, potatoes produce solanine, a glycoalkaloid poison. The amount in tubers of commercial varieties is generally low, but potato tubers that have been damaged in some way, or stored in the light, become green and produce more solanine. Eating even small quantities of green potatoes can cause nausea and vomiting, cramps, fever, dizziness, headaches, convulsions.

The toxic dose doesn’t seem to have been definitively determined, and it’s not clear how well solanine is absorbed and metabolized, nor whether it builds up when eaten in small amounts over a long time. It’s clearly safe to eat “normal” quantities of potatoes (up to around 300 g) on a daily basis, but the safety of eating ten times this, for a whole year, has not been established. But Taylor should be comforted by the fact that potatoes are a staple food throughout the world, albeit part of a slightly more varied diet.

Eat to live, or live to eat?

One food is not enough, but we don’t need an enormous range of foods. My great great grandfather, living in rural Aberdeenshire, had, like most of his contemporaries, a very limited diet of mainly potatoes, with oatmeal, kale, and small amounts of fish and boiled beef. He lived into his nineties and claimed never to be bored with his diet, saying: “It’s just maet” (where the Scots word “maet” refers to food in general, not just meat). Food was fuel, rather than a form of comfort and entertainment. Perhaps that is the sort of relationship with food that Andrew Taylor is trying to achieve.

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