Twice-fried potato wedges known as frites have long been a favorite side dish in Belgian bars and restaurants. But in the wake of the country's mandatory coronavirus-related shutdown that began on March 18, demand for frozen potato products has plummeted, and Belgium has found itself with a surplus of around 750,000 tons of potatoes. To keep the tasty tubers from going to waste, the government is calling on all its citizens to make certain dietary changes—namely, eating fries at least twice a week.
Since about 75 percent of Belgium’s potato industry is frozen potato products, the decreased demand from bars and restaurants is putting a major strain on the amount of freezer storage available to house the overflow. Officials are hoping people can help take the pressure off by upping their purchase of frozen fries from grocery stores.
“We’re working with supermarkets to see whether we can launch a campaign asking Belgians to do something for the sector by eating fries—especially frozen fries—twice a week during the coronavirus crisis,” Romain Cools, the secretary general of Belgapom, the nation’s potato industry association, told CNBC. “What we are trying to do is to avoid food waste, because every lost potato is a loss.”
To prevent as much loss as possible, Belgium is looking for other helpful and creative ways to unload some of its unprocessed potatoes. In addition to shipping potatoes to food banks and countries in Central Europe and Africa that are currently facing food shortages, manufacturers are also converting potatoes into animal feed and biofuel.
While upstanding citizens all over Belgium chow down on crispy frites in the name of coronavirus relief, find out just how far potatoes have come from their early (poisonous) days in the Andes Mountains here.