Norwegians forsake their potatoes

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Potatoes have been a fixture on the dinner plates of generations of Norwegians, but consumption has plummeted in recent years. New figures indicate that even the pasta-loving Italians are now eating more potatoes than the Norwegians.

Boiled potatoes garnished with parsley were long a standard item on a Norwegian dinner table. PHOTO: Landbruksdepartementet

The potato, long served with fish and meat and used in everything from stews to salads to the alcoholic fire water known as akevitt, seems to be struggling against new food options in Norway, and new dietary habits. The introduction just in the past 20 years of exotic new menu options like sushi and fajitas has left the potato losing out to rice and noodles.

Newspaper Fædrelandsvennen in Kristiansand reports that Norwegians are only eating a third of the potatoes they ate 50 years ago. In 1958, Norwegians ate an average 75 kilos (165 pounds) of potatoes each. Last year, the amount was down to about 25 kilos, including potato chips and french fries.

State statistics bureau SSB reports that the decline in consumption has been especially sharp since 1999. By comparison, residents of Belarus eat 172 kilos of potatoes every year, Ukrainians 140 kilos and the Irish 119 kilos. Italians consume 40 kilos on average, compared to Norwegians’ 25.

Some academic and agricultural officials think Norwegians have grown more skeptical towards the potato, and don’t think it’s a particularly healthy contributor to the national diet. Now the national council on nutrition appears likely to remove the potato from its list of the five most-recommended fruits and vegetables for daily consumption.

That’s not because the potato is necessarily unhealthy, though. “The potato is being removed because we simply don’t have enough research on it,” Elling Bere at the University of Agder told Fædrelandsvennen. “We don’t know whether a place on the list can be justified, or defended.”

He said the potato “has a lot of good qualities” and ironically is more nutritious than rice or pasta, but doesn’t score well among those advocating or needing low carbohydrate diets. Nor can the potato boast high antioxidants.

“It’s rather sad that fewer potatoes are being eaten, because there’s no doubt they’re rich in nutrition,” Bere said. “Not as rich as cabbage, blueberries or fat fishes, but ahead of rice and pasta.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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