This week, Americans will gather around their dinner tables, share what they’re most grateful for, and indulge in their favorite holiday foods. When they do, there’s bound to be at least one side dish that’s almost mandatory at every table: the sweet potato.
In fact, while Thanksgiving gets one day, sweet potatoes get the entire month of November dedicated to them.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The same month known for Thanksgiving, Black Friday and the start to the annual holiday season in America is also the month of the sweet potato.
There’s a reason why this underrated starch gets its own month. It is theseventh most important food crop worldwide. Unlike other foods you might consume during the holidays, this root vegetable is actually super nutritious.
While the sweet potato is one of the vegetables Americans use to celebrate abundance, it’s a lifeline for many people in Africa. For 50 million farmers in Africa, this starchy goodness provides a living and a much-needed source of nutrition for pregnant women and young children.
Children deficient in Vitamin A are more prone to infections, have more difficulty fighting off diseases, and are more likely to suffer from night blindness and other issues with their vision.
It was this issue that led the International Potato Center (CIP) and the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative to partner together with private organizations to boost the global consumption of this unique crop.
Scientists have particularly focused on making the orange-fleshed sweet potato richer in vitamins and more accessible to the public. Just half a cup of boiled or mashed orange sweet potatoes can give children what they need for Vitamin A for the day.
We also encourage rural families not to throw away the skin and greens of sweet potatoes. The skin of the sweet potato is rich in fiber and potassium, which are essential for proper digestion and muscle function. Low iron is also the most common nutritional deficiency in the world and can cause mental impairment in children. This is why we help farming families creatively integrate sweet potato greens into their diets. The greens are an excellent source of iron and are helping to build healthier communities.
Of course, anyone who has children or remembers what it was like to be a child is aware that the odds of getting a child to eat a vegetable because “it’s good for them” are low. However, some culinary geniuses have already figured out that sweet potatoes can be turned into flour, juice, biscuits, chips, fries, pies, and even breakfast cereal — whatever it takes to get kids (and some adults) to eat more of it. Feed the Future and its partners are coming up with food processing approaches and recipes that fit local tastes and diets where we work and bring these products to the market. This initiative not only creates demand for sweet potatoes, allowing smallholder farmers to sell more produce, but it also increases consumers’ access to this humble yet nutritious crop.
Doing all this requires working with farmers, businesses, and others on the consumption and quality of the crop, storage, transport, machinery, and helping people channel their entrepreneurial spirit to bring sweet potatoes to the market!
It’s a lot of work, but for millions of undernourished people around the world, it’s worth it. And for Americans, it’s one more thing to think about and be proud of when sharing a meal with family and friends this Thanksgiving!