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Too few french fries could become a hot potato

Elvis Mekenye

Dec. 08, 2019

A french fry scarcity could actually pull this country together. But don’t count on it.
I have just three words to say to you: “french-fry shortage.”
The media went into mild hysterics the other day when growers warned that cold, wet weather in the northern United States and Canada had hurt production of the large potatoes favored for fries.
Do not panic. Stories about looming shortages — it was pumpkin in 2015, chicken wings in 2017 — are a media staple rarely followed by empty store shelves. Shortage stories fall into a category I call “fun fear” — threats like shark attacks and alien invasions that most people know are remote but can’t stop talking about.
To be sure, a genuine french-fry scarcity would be a trying experience. In the United States, I’d put it fifth on the list of the top gastronomic guilty pleasures, right behind doughnuts, beer, coffee and bacon.
But I wonder: Could a french-fry shortage be the very thing this nation needs to overcome polarization and unite once again in a common cause?
Whether liberal or conservative, Southerner or Northerner, we all can imagine the sorrow of pulling away from a McDonald’s drive-through with ketchup packets but nothing to slather.
I could see that sense of shared misery holding us together for, oh, let’s say two hours. Then the blame-game would begin.
One side would say the bad potato weather was further evidence of our failure to deal with climate change. The other would blame government regulation, lack of work ethic and, for no particular reason, Hillary Clinton.
As the struggle wore on, petty sniping would take hold as french-fry forces splintered into warring camps.
Those who favor the standard fry — thin with no skin — would accuse crinkle-cut aficionados of wasting precious potato resources with their showy variation. Pro-waffle fry people would spread rumors about the tastes and morals of those loyal to curly fries.
Meanwhile in Washington, wealthy potato magnates would be hauled before congressional committees to endure a ceremonial tongue-lashing that, while unpleasant, is mitigated by the knowledge that no magnate is ever punished by Congress.
The secretary of agriculture would resign after making an insensitive remark (“Let them eat hash browns!”).
There would be calls to establish a strategic potato reserve to ensure that no child would ever again face a cafeteria lunch without Tater Tots.
Even our polite neighbors to the north would show the strain as poutine commotions (marches and demonstrations too civil to qualify as “riots”) broke out in some Canadian cities.
As I said, I doubt any shortage will actually develop. We will have plenty of other opportunities to watch as partisans arm themselves with competing versions of reality and joust in the public arena.
And if you’d like fries with that, I predict you will have them.
Joe Blundo is a columnist for The Dispatch.
@joeblundo
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