This is a story about how a single potato connected me to the rest of the world.
I was lost in the static of my thoughts staring at a box of grapes in the fruit section of Morrisons. I was feeling lost and couldn’t understand how all the people around me had it all figured out. In my head, they knew exactly what they were doing, why they were buying their onions and potatoes and what recipes they were going to be following that week. In my head, they were perfect and just knew how to do life. I looked around the fruit and vegetable section and saw that everything was so still and present. In the business of my head, it hadn’t occurred to me that these raspberries and sweet potatoes hadn’t just appeared out of thin air. They had a story; a history; a journey.
Picking up a sweet potato and feeling the roughness of its skin, I wondered if anyone else had looked at this exact potato. Had the stockroom assistants remarked upon the curious knobbliness of this particular root vegetable or were they thinking about what they were going to choose to eat for lunch? Perhaps the person who loaded the delivery truck? Or maybe they were too stressed to comment on a single potato and were hyper-focused on organising palettes of fresh produce in such a manner that they could smoothly unload them at their chosen destination.
I stood, frozen in time and followed this specific path of thinking. How many hands had touched this potato? Where do sweet potatoes even come from? I look at the label: USA. What a distance it has travelled. Let’s think about this…what was involved in this potato’s lifetime? Someone would have planted a seed in a farm, watered it, uprooted it, either by hand or by machine and sorted them by size/shape, categorized them into countries, shipped to said countries and then made its way to its final destination: the supermarket produce section.
I started to think about what other humans were involved in the process of placing this potato in my hand and their histories. Had the driver of the delivery truck also been confused about his place in the world? Had the warehouse operative ever been so anxious that it was impossible to leave the house because the outside world contributed to sensory overload? Had the person in the air traffic control tower directing the freight plane which runway to land on ever had a panic attack when someone was too physically close to them and their jackets brushed each other in a way that was too invasive of personal space?
Maybe the person who physically took the potato out of the ground also found it uncomfortable making small talk with people and chose that job because it involved manual labour, routine and wasn’t advertised as a social job.
I stood and looked at the abundance of food around me. All of this food came from somewhere and had it’s own history. My single sweet potato was part of a collection. This potato was one of at least 50 in the crate it was homed in, and this was 1 crate of who knows how many that had made its way from a farm in the USA. All these fruits and vegetables had had some kind of interaction with humans; humans that have their own life experiences. At least one of these humans will have shared some similarities in my own story. At least one will have experienced challenges in living. Maybe one of them has just come out of an episode of traumatic flashbacks and has learned something about themselves. Maybe they heard while at a meditation class that cyclic breathing can calm the nervous system and felt the effects themselves when they felt the onset of a panic attack.
All these humans I was imagining were based on 1 supermarket in a locality which had at least 3 supermarkets within it. That locality is in a city of almost half a million with countless shops. That city is in a country that contains 5.4 million people, on an island that has 71.9 million people, which is part of a continent that has 741.4 million people, which is part of planet Earth, in which 7.53 billion people live upon.
At least one of them is feeling what I am feeling while holding this sweet potato. At least one of them has been where I currently am. I might never meet these people, but in my heart I know that I am not alone on this planet.
I picked up this potato, initially thinking nothing of it, except what toppings I was going to put on top of it for dinner. Now I see that there are hundreds of people that have made this potato get to where it is. Each of them has had purpose in the lifetime of this potato and it doesn’t end with me. I may have eaten the potato, but I will tell my friends about the delicious meal I made myself because I was feeling proud that I was feeling OK enough to go to the shops, pick ingredients and create a dinner from scratch. The whole process aided my wellbeing and, for me, this is wisdom that I will pass on to others.
I will have contributed more to the story of the potato as my life is now intertwined with it and I am determined to make it last as long as I can.
by Nic Saunders
Nic is a creative and curious human who shares her life in Edinburgh with her cat, Kaya. She is passionate about sharing her realities of living with complex trauma, be it through writing, storytelling, and art or through peer support. Follow her on Twitter @UnavoidHuman and visit her website at unavoidablyhuman.com.