Why We Eat Potatoes: Reference Points Part 2


In the late 1700s Frederick the 2nd, King of Prussia thought the widespread adoption of potatoes would lower the price of other food staples and improve the economic welfare of his people. The problem is the potato is not an instantly attractive food, it’s not like a mango. It doesn’t wow with sweetness and flavor. Alone it has almost no flavor, so how it tastes is all about how you prepare it, which makes it hard to evaluate. At first, he forced them on his army as rations, so the soldiers would get used to them and hopefully request them at home. It didn't’ work.

Second, he ordered peasants to plant them under threat of having their ears and noses cut off. The message the people got was that the value of the potato was low, so no one wanted them. What they learned was “if the king is willing to cut off my nose if I don't eat them, they must be terrible.”

That’s when Frederick brought in his propaganda committee to change the way people thought about potatoes. Their idea was a royal potato field guarded on all sides. Once again, the message was clear. Potatoes were something rare and special. The people began to demand them, and it became a staple across all of Europe.

Even today, hundreds of years later potatoes are staples of Europeans and Americans. All because a propaganda committee wanted to change the way people think about them.

 Notes on the heading:


 While the early techniques of Frederik the Second were tyrannical, I wanted to use this reference point to identify that not all propaganda campaigns have been negative. Email was largely driven by propaganda campaigns in the 1990s. It also introduces the idea of reputation, popularity and celebrity to the tools of persuaders.

This tool of advertisers is seen on every red carpet as fashion and jewelry designers try to get their creations noticed and attached to the reputation and celebrity of certain individuals. The psychology behind this is simple. Most people have an innate drive to be better, this often results in comparisons to know how we are holding up against humanity as whole, and our own personal progress. Within comparative thinking people create benchmarks and aspirations. We imagine a dream life and look around to see who best embodies that, then we try to recreate their success in our life. We try to do as they do. Thus, it was with royal potatoes and is with modern day celebrities and the companies that market through them.