Belgians urged to eat more fries to help potato farmers amid pandemic-related glut

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Romain Cools, the secretary general of Belgium's potato processing association, stands in a warehouse filled with potatoes. Cools is encouraging people to eat more fries as the price of potatoes has plummeted.
Romain Cools, the secretary general of Belgium's potato processing association, stands in a warehouse filled with potatoes. Cools is encouraging people to eat more fries as the price of potatoes has plummeted.
Teri Schultz for NPR

With restaurants closed in Belgium until at least June 8 due to the country's COVID-19 lockdown, piles of potatoes that would have been deep-fried and topped with a glop of mayo have nowhere to go.

Some 750,000 tons of spuds intended for the free market which remain unsold — or those under contract but unable to be processed due to the glut — will only remain edible until the end of June. Meanwhile, the price for such potatoes has plummeted.

The head of Belgium's potato-processing association, Belgapom, says the solution is beautifully simple: Eat more frites!

Potatoes are processed into fries at the Mydibel processing plant in Mouscron, Belgium.
Potatoes are processed into fries at the Mydibel processing plant in Mouscron, Belgium.
Teri Schultz for NPR

Romain Cools points to statistics showing Belgian households typically eat one serving of fries per week and suggests one more won't hurt consumers and will really help producers.

"It will not damage your health if you leave something else a little bit greasy out of your meal," Cools counsels. That will free up space in freezers, he says, all the way from large factories to supermarkets to home kitchens, and allow more of the potatoes now harvested — and at risk of rot — to go into processing.

Cools came up with the campaign to eat twice as many fries as he was giving an interview about the crisis in the industry last month. The attention it's received from around the world has surprised and amused him. He's pleased his advice seems to have spread widely, since Belgium is, by volume, the world's largest exporter of frozen potato products. The processed potato industry is worth more than $2 billion annually in that country alone.

Potato producers aren't only asking for help; they're also giving it. In a new partnership between regional authorities and one industry leader, Pomuni, 25 tons of potatoes are being donated per week to area food banks to help make up for a COVID-related drop in donations.

Cools says Belgapom, which includes all Belgian processors, will team up with supermarkets in the coming weeks to get even more fries out of the freezers.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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