Having grown up in a large Irish-Catholic family that ate potatoes nearly every night for dinner, my dad all but banished the tubers from our table. Relatives of his had passed down stories (perhaps fables) of their ancestors peeling away rotten skins during the potato famine back in the Old Country, and the relative abundance of edible, inexpensive ones in Northern California during the mid-20th century had led to a reactive potato saturation, as far as he was concerned.
NPR’s The Salt blog commemorates St. Patrick’s Day 2014 with an historical note on the Great Famine and foods dyed green for the March 17 holiday: Some Irish don’t find the color so charming, much less appetizing. From the post:
The reason, [historian Christine Kinealy, PhD] explains, is the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, which forced so many Irish to flee mass starvation in their homeland in search of better times in America and elsewhere. Those who stayed behind turned to desperate measures.
“People were so deprived of food that they resorted to eating grass,” Kinealy tells The Salt. “In Irish folk memory, they talk about people’s mouths being green as they died.”
At least a million Irish died in the span of six years, says Kinealy, the founding director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. Which is why, for an Irishwoman like Kinealy, who hails from Dublin and County Mayo, the sight of green-tinged edibles intended as a joyous nod to Irish history can be jolting, she says.
“Before I came to America, I’d never seen a green bagel.” She says. “For Irish-Americans, they think of dying food green, they think everything is happy. But really, in terms of the famine, this is very sad imagery.”