‘Eat fries twice a week’: Belgians urged to help with potato pile-up

Farmers in Belgium are urging their fellow citizens to do the heroic thing and eat more fries during the country’s coronavirus lockdown, due to a massive oversupply of potatoes that can’t be shipped to other nations.

The small European country has a stockpile of approximately 750,000 tons of taters that will rot if they’re not eaten soon, according to Romain Cools, the secretary general of Belgapom, Belgium’s potato growers union. That’s why he’s urging Belgians to “eat fries twice a week, instead of just once.”

Patriotism never sounded so tasty.

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It’s a novel solution to a dire problem affecting farmers in many countries around the world, as the COVID-19 lockdowns have disrupted many interdependent food supply chains. Potato producers in Idaho have been dealing with a similar problem.

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Farmers have been forced to dump milk, slaughter livestock or leave their crops to rot because they simply can’t get the staff or transportation necessary to bring the food to market. Meanwhile, others are going hungry without access to that food in many countries around the globe.

READ MORE: Canada’s meat-and-potato problem: Coronavirus pandemic hits the food supply chain

Belgium produced about 5.3 million tons of potatoes last year and exported about half of that total, according to Belgapom.

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With an extra half of their typical crop now stuck in warehouses, farmers are urging politicians to prioritize home-grown spuds at grocery stores while they try to get rid of the oversupply, which is worth about 125 million Euros, according to Forbes.

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Shipments of the stockpiled potatoes are already being sent to food banks, Flemish Agriculture Minister Hilde Crevits told the Brussels Times.

“Families in poverty will be supplied with fresh, local potatoes every week,” she told the paper. “In this way, part of the potato stock will still be used and we can avoid seeing excellent food, for which our farmers have worked so hard, being lost.”

Farmers still need more help to get rid of the stockpiled spuds before they spoil.

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Many social media users have said they’d happily help with the problem, if only they could get to Belgium.

Others recommended thinking outside the fry box with other potential uses for the potatoes, including vodka and chips.

One individual laid out the many possibilities by quoting a line from The Lord of the Rings.

“Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew,” he wrote on Twitter. “Po-tay-toes.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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