Devil’s Advocate: Let Them Eat Potatoes

Thanks to the tireless work by Wikileaks an interesting letter has come to light addressed to the Devil himself from one of his advocates in our world. It reads:

Your Most Gruesome Majesty,

I write of a great triumph in spreading fear, mistrust and uncertainty in the world. I hope that this will contribute to solving our overcrowding issue. The day will soon come when the earth is so much like hell humans no longer need to go to hell to suffer. I hear of minor progress on the temperature front by my fellow daemons in the energy sector but I’m sure you will see my triumph as eclipsing theirs when you are considering the next round of promotions.

I’ve managed to get good people in developed countries to think they don’t have enough to eat – even whilst they are getting fat! By making them insecure I’ve got them thinking they have to somehow make it on their own. In the past we have sold a lot of guns and 4×4’s to people who don’t need them on the basis of a survivalist/security motivation but now I’m managing to subvert peaceful city dwellers into lusting after a garden they will never use and being finicky about perfectly good food. You’ll be so pleased with how bad they are all feeling. The eat local and grow your own campaigns I have manipulated into place will, for example, get Scots terribly upset at not being able to source locally produced, organic bananas. This should keep them nicely diverted from what we are really up to.

I’d like to share some of my calculations so you can see how much fun we are having up here and because I know the devil is in the detail!

Humans need to eat about 2,200 kcal a day on average and they have many crops that will provide them with this energy. Take the potato. There are 770 kcals in a kilogram of potatoes so 3kg will feed a person for a day and roughly 1 tonne for a year. There are 5.3 million people in Scotland and potato productivity is about 44 tonnes per hectare so to feed the whole population would take about 125,000 hectares of arable land. That may sound a lot but it is only 22% of the arable land in Scotland and only 2% of the total agricultural land. Most of it has dumb beasts on. OK – so it would be hell to live off just potatoes (that might actually be an idea … ) but from the human perspective the principle is clear. The population could be fed on a small proportion of the land available if they ate a diet based on what grows well here. They start from an incredibly secure base before they begin trading with others who have far more productive lands in warmer climates that can provide a varied diet and yet Scots are still worried about their security.

What is so great about my achievement is that by getting people to think they must eat locally produced food they can start to feel they are an island unto themselves – which in the long run we can exploit into hating others who might take it away. This can happen so long as the humans never think too hard about what they are actually eating and what might be best for them and the planet. For example they all love to eat tomatoes (another South American plant) but growing tomatoes in Scotland is incredibly inefficient. Far better to grow them in a warmer climate and ship them North – preferable dried. But if I work at it I’ll get them putting up plastic tunnels and heating them because dogma is our ally in all matters. Better local than anything else! (I must insist that I get credit for such an initiative and not those lazy daemons in the energy department.)

I think my favourite part is the cognitive dissonance that prevents the humans joining the dots and keeps them heading our way.

Recently they were chatting about the Tsimane people in Bolivia (there is definitely a South American theme developing here). The Tsimane don’t get heart disease because they just eat potatoes whilst the Scots, who could easily live off potatoes but don’t, are riddled with the disease. OK that is an exaggeration but if a daemon can’t exaggerate who can?

In the Tsimane diet 72% of calories come from carbohydrate, 14% from protein and 14% from fat. A pure potato diet would give 88% carbohydrate, 12% protein and 0% fat which isn’t far off a diet for the “healthiest hearts in the world”. Maybe if the potatoes were fried in a little rape seed oil occasionally they would be nearer to it and rape seed oil is easily produced in Scotland – but we should keep quiet about that.

When the humans talked about the Tsimane diet on the radio they were so preoccupied with the meat coming from a rodent (capybara) they didn’t even notice that the diet was actually close to something they already had available in Scotland. If, instead of being obsessed with the provenance of food they just switched to a high starch, low meat, plant based diet they’d benefit themselves and the planet with very little bother.  Agriculture would just adapt to supply it. They forget that most of the plants they grow go to animal feed and alcohol production – both industries you will be familiar with from your other projects. Instead they worry about how far their broccoli has travelled (and with 2,000 hectares of broccoli grown in Scotland last year  a lot of it is local anyhow). I have made them unhappy and competitive about a perfectly innocent plate of vegetables. I’m sure you will recognise my achievement.

Another bonus for us is the humans think that by growing their own veg or buying it from someone with a small holding rather than a regular farmer they are somehow helping people in far off countries who really do have food security problems. If they wanted to help global food security they could simply emit a little less carbon. But keep them driving their 4x4s to the allotment then jetting off to the sun that’s what I say!

The only real worry I have is with the pesky scientists. If they do their job right and start counting and measuring everything before opening their mouths then they will soon work out the best way to foil our plans. Fortunately scientists are often as gullible as the other humans and can be easily swayed on to the latest trends.

Your cringing servant,


Kudos to C.S. Lewis, Screwtape and Wormwood


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  1. Root Hyam

    Here is someone doing a similar thing for the whole UK and with protein.