Frites are as important to Belgium as McNuggets are to America. After all, the Belgians reportedly invented “French” fries over 200 years ago—a story that is chronicled in the country’s official Frietmuseum. Belgium ranks 17th in global potato production; 2018 was a banner year for the industry, with a record harvest of over 3 billion kilograms of spuds. Belgium’s coronavirus lockdown began in mid-March, and with all of its restaurants closed, farmers now have a surplus of over 750,000 tons of potatoes. For scale, that’s about the weight of close to 150,000 elephants, which, even if they were having a really bad day, would probably not be able to eat 750,000 tons of potatoes. And as elephants aren’t exactly plentiful in Belgium, the potato industry is asking citizens to pick up the slack.
While restaurants are closed, the country’s iconic frites shops remain open as they are normally takeout-only operations, but sales have significantly slumped as people are remaining in their homes. According to The Brussels Times, residents are now being urged to double their potato intake by going out for frites at least twice a week to help reduce the surplus, generate revenue for farmers, and keep those frites shops they so depend on open. In addition, Belgapom, the country’s potato trade organization, has announced a weekly donation of 25 tons of potatoes to Belgium’s central food bank in Grimbergen that will then be sent to 460 distribution points around the country.
“In this way, part of the potato stock will still be used and we can avoid seeing excellent food, for which our farmers have worked so hard, being lost,” said Flemish agriculture minister Hilde Crevits. “Families in poverty will be supplied with fresh, local potatoes every week. A positive action in difficult times.” (If you find yourself with too many potatoes, we recommend tartiflette.)