How the humble potato fuelled the rise of liberal capitalism in Great Britain

Many Britons are troubled by reports that as a nation their fondness for sugar and disdain for exercise will eventually bankrupt the NHS. We agree that our poor dietary choices affect everyone, but at the same time we’re certain that we have a right to eat what we want. The story about how Britons started to think this way about food is closely linked to the rise of the potato as a national starch. Britain’s love for the potato is bound up with notions of the utilitarian value of a good diet and how a healthy citizenry is the engine room of a strong economy. To find out more about that, we need to go back to the 18th century, when there was a growing consensus across Europe that much of the population was crippling itself with poorly chosen eating habits. The renowned Scottish physician William Buchan at the time exclaimed: “What a treasure is a milch cow and a potatoe garden, to a poor man with a large family!” The potato provided ideal nourishment, he said. More