Buying in Bulk: The PEI Potato Debacle

Bet you can’t have just one…spud…

Upon my no-longer-recent return from my adventures in PEI, I was bombarded with questions. The standard inquiries were quickly brushed aside. Yes, I had fun. Of course I went to the beach. Charlottetown was lovely. No, we didn’t get PEI Potatoes.

Prince Edward Island is synonymous with many things: red beaches, lighthouses, Anne of Green Gables and, of course, potatoes. According to The Guardian [Charlottetown], the PEI potato industry directly and indirectly employs 12% of the island’s population and boasts a whopping $750 million in revenue. In 2012, Canada saw a surplus of potatoes following planting season and were able to increase exports outside of the true north. The potato industry has contracts with major Canadian food processors McCain, Frito-Lay, Cavendish Farms, and Old Dutch. Who hasn’t seen any of these labels in their local grocery stores or freezer section of the depanneur at the corner of their street?

It would be astounding if you had no idea what I was talking about.Lord of the Rings
What’s “taters”, preciouss?

Moreover, the PEI potato harvest accounts for 24% of Canada’s most important vegetable crop and is a major exporter to the United States. Meanwhile, imports from our neighbours to the south are primarily processed (frozen, chip-ified, pre-cut), while our exports are predominantly fresh. The PEI potato industry even has contests and sweepstakes for potato enthusiasts and spud lovers alike (win your signature PEI Potato Swag here).

The knowledge that PEI is famous for potatoes was going through my head as I pushed around a shopping cart at the Allen St. Sobeys in Charlottetown in August. Of all the experiences I was hoping to acquire, I figured trying the legendary spuds would be easiest.

And yet my woe lives with me to this day.

Although PEI Potatoes were readily available for purchase, they were packaged for consumption in bulk—gargantuan bags of potatoes ranging from 5 to 20 pounds (and as a traveler staying only ten days, it’s hard to eat your weight in potatoes in such a limited time frame). So naturally, I went off to look for single spuds. Labels for individual tubers read “Best for Boiling” or “The Perfect Peel” and “Master of Mash”. I picked through them in hopes of finding the biggest, fleshiest, most Prince Edward Island-ish potatoes possible.

But all I found were American Potatoes.

What was happening? Had I gotten lost amidst the sacks upon sacks of potatoes? Had I mixed up my timeline, perhaps ended up in an alternate universe where Potato Land sold potatoes that were not homegrown?

A whole new meaning to "bet you can't have just one"PEI Potato
But I just want one!!

The sad truth was that Sobeys didn’t sell solitary spuds. For all their talk of being famous for their taters, I couldn’t buy ONE Canadian potato. And I definitely didn’t want a whole bag. This method of selling potatoes was mildly problematic given that, as a tourist, my inability to support my own nation’s economy left me greatly saddened.  I was forced to buy sub-par, American potatoes. It seemed that PEI had become victim to the increasing encroachment of the red, white, and blue. Is it not enough that American film companies come into our cities only to remind public audiences that these spaces are supposedly in the US? Do they need to take over our potatoes too?

With a heavy heart, I purchased my Yankee spuds, promptly plopped them in the microwave, and vaporized them.

They were delicious.

Original content originally published on The True North Times: Consistently Funny, Proudly Canadian.


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