Which should we trust: potatoes or statistics?

When I was a young man I read about a study linking mashed potatoes to crime. People who were arrested for committing certain crimes, it seems, had recently eaten mashed potatoes.


The study, as I recall, implied a cause-and-effect relationship. Did the potato have a substance that sparked rowdiness in people? Did it boost evil energy while shutting off the part of the brain that kept people in line with society? Was a new prohibition needed to stem the flow of potatoes from the bowl to the stomach?

I never learned the answer. That was in the days when everyone ate mashed potatoes with abandon. In my own family, we had mashed potatoes several times a week and especially for Sunday dinner. They were as American as, well, apple pie.

By the way, our dinners took place in the early afternoon. We didn’t know it at the time that people who grew up in places other than farms called their noontime meal “lunch” and their evening meal “dinner” instead of supper.

Only after I left the farm did I learn that wherever people live, “dinner” is usually considered the largest meal of the day, and although city folks might have theirs in the evening after returning from “the office,” farm folks have their big meal around noon. Even during the week, our noontime meals were larger because we needed extra energy to do farmwork.

Because details of the study were so fuzzy, I doubted from the start whether it had any basis in fact or whether it was instead a hoax showing the ridiculous things that can be proved with statistics. Figures don’t lie, someone once said, but liars sure can figure.

After all, people did indeed commit crimes, and people did eat potatoes. It seemed ridiculous to suggest that crime results in potatoes, but surely the opposite could be true.

Then again, my extended family had eaten mashed potatoes for years, and the worst thing I ever heard about any of my relatives was that my mother’s father got run over by a train. I don’t know whether there was any crime involved; maybe he just didn’t want to move off the track. Still, he hobbled for the remainder of his life, so it seems he was punished in his own way.

Here’s what makes that study even more confusing. Years later, I read a similar report linking crime to people who had just eaten french fries. Again, the details are less than clear, but considering that people’s dining habits had changed from mashed potatoes to french fries, it might well have been the same study – or the same hoax – updated for modern times. No more credible, just more fast food.

People often don’t like to take responsibility for their actions. They plead not guilty and blame their upbringing or their genes. But please, free the spud.

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419

or glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.