Can Potatoes Get Fat?

Many people are good at analytical thinking. While helpful, I prefer synthetic thinking. It’s more fun.

I like to be curious. I want to combine ideas from different genres to see if any new insights can come to be. The most recent one is, “Can Potatoes get fat?”

The development of the question

The meaning of this question relies on human health, animal husbandry, psychology, military theory, climate science, and plant biology.

What we know includes the idea that animals who are stressed do better. I know a little from being tangentially involved with raising deer for meat. In New Zealand, a leading deer meat producer, animals living higher on the mountain where pastures are less vibrant do better. The meat contains less fat and more vitamins and minerals. Infant mortality is lower. Animals require less veterinary care and live longer. Modest stress seems to be a positive life force.

Most physicians will tell you that being overweight is deleterious. I once had a doctor tell me he would like 90% of me to return in a year for another check-up. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a decent predictor of health and survival but only at the extremes. We could agree that if you are 5 feet 10 inches tall and weigh 400 pounds, you might not make it to age 90. Weight might not be the only issue. It could indicate another factor in your life that is working against you. In any case, people tend to work on weight management to inform and support overall health.

The psychology part, which I suppose doesn’t relate well to potatoes, is that we are problem-solving machines. We like to find answers. Stress is positive for our emotional well-being as well as our physical well-being. To some extent, we want stress.

Climate science tells us that the carbon dioxide portion of the atmosphere is increasing. It is now about 420 parts per million, while it was barely over 300 ppm 70 years ago.

Plant biology tells us that CO2 is a form of plant food. When it is more plentiful, plants grow better. That’s why you see nurseries with a greenhouse. Is it always good? We also know that plants change chemically as necessary. Organically grown plants, after several generations, have defensive chemicals in their fibre which are very similar to the chemicals you spray to protect them from pests. You can’t wash that off, either.

Military theory tells us that in an infantry war, many more soldiers will defeat fewer soldiers.

The questions that arise

We know that in deer, when food is plentiful, the nature of their bodies changes a little, but adversely. Does a different environment change all animals, plants, and people?

What is the equivalent of fat in a plant? When food is plentiful and cheap to acquire, do potatoes get fat and lazy? Is the fabric of their body different in terms of nutrients when they need not create better root systems and different foliage? In the simplest terms, is a potato in a high CO2 atmosphere the same as one where CO2 is lower?

If potatoes become different, is the change beneficial or harmful to us? How many potatoes with no nutritional value must you eat to be healthy?

Where it leads

Have you ever seen and consumed artisanal vegetables? If you have, you know they are unlike their modern cousins. They are more fragile, and their shape is different. I am old enough to remember when tomatoes were near spherical and had thinner skin. The changes made them easier to ship. More or less nutritious? I don’t know. The ones grown today from ancient seed varieties have an easy CO2 life, so they are likely nutritionally different from their old selves.

We should know more before deciding that more CO2 will make plant life more voluminous, and therefore feeding the world will be easier. Quantity is not the same thing as quality. There must be balance.

In an infantry war, you will usually win if you have five times as many soldiers. If your many soldiers are overfed and undernourished, you might not win.

The bit to take away.

Climate change will have many effects. We should learn and address all of them. We can mitigate rising sea issues but cannot as easily adjust to food changing its fundamental characteristics.

Beyond some level, the CO2 problem seems self-limiting. More plants consume more CO2 and thus limit its expansion. But, would that really help us? Maybe not, but I suppose there would be more hydrocarbons in the ground ten million years from now. Now that would be a long-term investment!

Should we deal only with ways to reduce CO2, or should we be finding ways to use the increase to our advantage? Why not both? Always have a plan B.

Maybe plants can create their version of a couch potato.


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software startup, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Federal Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don.shaughnessy@gmail.com.

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