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When I dropped my boys off at school I always said, “Have fun; learn a lot.” So today I present a food history lesson and then some dessert.

Did you know the humble potato changed the western world? It was first grown in Peru around 8000 B.C. Spanish conquistadors introduced the potato to Europe in the 1500s. Sailors then transported the plant to ports around the world. European farmers were slow to adopt this tuber, but it became an important crop and food staple that played a major role in the European population boom of the 1800s.

For landless tenants in the 1700s Ireland, a single acre of potatoes and one milk cow were enough to nourish a family of eight. No grain could do that. The potato stored well in winter and provided needed vitamins, minerals and even protein. Thus began the tradition of Irish and British planting this root vegetable on their rented earth.

From the British Isles the farming spread to Northern European peasants in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Russia from the 1700s through the 1800s. Farmers developed ever heartier breeds of potatoes by replanting only those that best adapted to climate and soil.

Villagers in Europe soon discovered another advantage. Potatoes were hard to tax and plunder. If you have a field of wheat, you can’t hide it. This farming deceived both the taxman and pillaging soldiers so that farm families filled their stomachs with food kept underground.

The population in Europe, decimated by plague, was further restricted by lack of food. With the spread of the potato, the number of inhabitants exploded. Researchers estimate the potato alone accounts for 25% of the population growth between 1700 and 1900. Likewise European cities, trade and world exploration expanded in ways that never would have occurred without the lowly spud. So give thanks to those McDonald’s french fries in your next Happy Meal. They earned it.

And now some tips for maintaining a healthy level of insanity (credit to other authors):

When your money comes out of the ATM, scream “I won! I won!”

On all your checks, write the notation “For Marijuana.”

Skip down the street rather than walk and see the looks you get.

Order a diet water whenever you go out to eat.

Tell your children over dinner, “Due to the economy, we’re going to have to let one of you go.”

At lunchtime, sit in your car with sunglasses on and point a hair dryer at passing cars. Watch them slow down.

When leaving the zoo, start running towards the parking lot yelling, “Run for your lives. They’re loose.“

Go to a department store fitting room, sit down and drop your pants to your ankles, then shout, “Hey, there’s no toilet paper in here.”

And finally some quotes:

Familiarity breeds contempt — and children. — Mark Twain.

Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for. — Will Rogers.

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip. — Will Rogers

If it first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. It’s no use being a damn fool about it. — W.C. Fields

Grant McGuire is a Huntington resident.

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