Let the debate begin. Should the sweet potato be declared Alabama’s state veggie?

Sweet Potatoes at the Winn Dixie on Montevallo Road in Birmingham. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Forget all those heady issues the Alabama legislature confronts, what seems like every legislative session. You know the issues well… the lottery, gambling, prison reform, and Medicaid expansion. Put those sticky matters on the backburner. The big debate lawmakers are grappling with this spring in Montgomery?

Should the sweet potato be declared our state vegetable?

National news

Last week, the infamous orange spud made national news when State Senator Tom Butler introduced the pro-sweet potato resolution at the behest of some local high school students in North Alabama.

The story caught fire nationally when the teens and the state senator were interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly  (side note: the story first appeared locally on CBS 42). Interesting side note, Kelly is the reporter who gained notoriety last month when she and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a public spat on whether she was allowed to ask America’s top diplomat questions concerning Ukraine.

So as you can see, the editors at NPR assigned their toughest reporter on the breaking Alabama sweet potato story.

Alabama’s public radio station. Photo via WBHM on Facebook

Kidding aside – below is the link to the NPR story which includes audio and transcript with a probing interview of State Senator Arthur Orr, a sweet potato farmer and the mom and students who got the statewide campaign rolling.

A Homegrown Campaign to Recognize the Sweet Potato in Alabama

Why the Sweet Potato?

So, let the debate begin. Should the sweet potato be named our state veggie?

I say, heck yes!

It is far more popular than the other veggie contenders. Sorry fried okra fans and turnip green lovers. Moreover, Alabama farmers annually grow 12,000 tons of orange stuff.

Come to think about it, there are as many ways to turn sweet potatoes into a culinary delicacy as Forrest Gump’s Bubba describes cooking shrimp.

Whether it is for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner, sweet potatoes can be delivered in countless forms – including sweet potato hashbrowns, biscuits, frittata, casseroles, soups, rolls, salads, quesadillas, stews, cocktails and of course pies.

Birmingham, The Alabama Biscuit Company, brunch Birmingham
Sweet potato biscuit. Photo via The Alabama Biscuit Company.

It is a superfood

Another plus for us sweet potato supporters, the tuber is what nutrition experts call a “superfood.”

One baked, medium-sized sweet potato contains 438% of your daily value of vitamin A (a white potato contains 1%) and 37% of your vitamin C. There are also loads of calcium, potassium, iron and fiber. Some researchers claim this orange root has some cancer-fighting elements to it.

Follow George Washington Carver’s lead

Earth Day quotes
Bust of George Washington Carver at Tuskegee University. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Another reason to support sweet potato? The biggest sweet potato champion in our state’s history  was George Washington Carver. The Tuskegee scientist and inventor created over 100 products from sweet potatoes over his lifetime, including candies, chocolate and even practical uses such as glue and writing ink.

Check out Carver’s list – HERE.

Pies, pies, pies

Personally, what puts the sweet potato over the top as the state veggie for me is the variation of sweet potato pies. For example, you can try up to 14 different kinds of sweet potato pies from JuWanda’s Sweet Potato Pies in Hoover.  Birmingham’s own James Beard pastry winner Dolester Miles has her own classic version (here is the recipe). Even George Washington Carver – made a special pie too!

The Legislative Process

Passage of the Sweet Potato state veggie law should be a slam dunk. I’m personally hoping my local State Senator Rodger Smitherman will join the cause. The bill’s number is SB 98 and the lead sponsor is Tom Butler from Madison County.

Montgomery Alabama
Photo by: Pat Byington of the Alabama State Capitol

Potential opponents – NO to mac & cheese

Hattie B’s hot chicken and Mac & Cheese. The restaurant’s Mac & Cheese was named best in Alabama by Business Insider. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

I guess the only special interest groups that may oppose the bill are the okra and turnip green crowd. Gotta watch out for the snap peas and green bean guys. And since this is Alabama – we’ve got to remind folks that mac and cheese is NOT a vegetable.

Stay tuned. The sweet potato bill has already made it through the first committee 11- zip this week.

  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.