We planted some Covington sweet potatoes this year. Most of what we planted were slips from potatoes we saved from last year: Maple Leafs and Oklahoma Reds. But we didn’t have enough so I bought some Covington slips from a local nursery. There was a serious shortage of sweet potato slips around here this season, so I felt lucky to find any. They’re all in the ground now and we’re hoping for a bountiful harvest this Fall.
The Covington sweet potato is a metaphor for a lot of what is happening in our society, particularly as it relates to food. This variety was almost completely unknown just a very few years ago, but this year over 95% of commerically grown sweet potatoes are Covingtons. Why this dramatic surge in popularity? Well, it is partially because the Covington keeps well. But Beauregards keep well too, yet the Covington has pushed the once dominant Beauregard to the sidelines. The primary reason the industry has switched to Covington is because the food service industry (restaurants) prefer it. And they prefer it because of the uniformity of size.
Sweet potatoes come out of the ground in all shapes and sizes. Some are fat and round. Some are long and thin. Some weigh a few ounces. Some weigh a few pounds.
But not the Covington. They’re all the same size and shape. Restaurants and grocery stores prefer this, as it makes the potato easier to package and assures that everyone who orders a sweet potato gets the same thing on their plate.
But a world in which all sweet potatoes look the same is a world a little impoverished, in my humble opinion.
I prefer to celebrate the wild diversity among sweet potatoes, rather than work toward a time when all sweet potatoes are identical.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this preference for homogenization is reflected in other ways in our culture. It seems like most folks would prefer we all be Covingtons.
The industrial food complex prefers uniformity. All the eggs in a carton must be the same shape, size and color. All tomatoes must be the same size, shape and color. And so on.
We don’t follow those rules here. Open one of our egg cartons and you’ll see eggs in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Likewise our tomatoes.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the Covingtons do. I’m sure they’ll be delicious. But I hope we are always able to produce lots of good old-fashioned crazy looking sweet potatoes too.