Time for an alternative (96 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

At the time of writing a barrel of Brent crude would cost you $111.69.

That the product of oil and related energy sources pervades every aspect of modern life is well-known. That the economies of China and India now keep the price of oil high even when the West is in the economic doldrums is the new reality we’re just waking up to. But I’m now wondering what price level of oil kills profit stone dead. Seriously: apart from oil companies, worried oligarchs and other gangsters, who makes any money at all making things, transporting things – almost any things – when energy and fuel costs this much?

While the fig leaves of house prices, share values and pension funds remain in place, I suppose no one really notices or cares too much if they’re making less than nothing. But if those mutually-dependent fantasy assets return to their true, intrinsic values (paper, bricks, mortar) what then?

Sometimes the long, rickety bridge back to a bit of land-based certainty feels like it’s breaking right behind us…!

By comparison, potato blight might not seem a big deal. But I don’t like uncertainty about a staple crop and the blight goes with the territory around here. One hot, dry and relatively blight-free summer last year shouldn’t distract from the mouldy norm. I will be ready with the sprayer full of Bordeaux mixture, of course. But if there’s an obscure alternative route to walk then count me in.

I’d have to be pretty desperate to fight the pigs for the Jerusalem artichokes, so I’m hoping that these unusual tubers (to a Westerner) will offer a palatable alternative to the good old spud. From the left: jicama, yacon, taro and oca.

Unfortunately, I discover (after purchase) that the lovely-looking oca is susceptible to the same lurgies as the potato. Yacon is an edible dahlia. I don’t know anything about flowers so that sounds to me akin to eating an Aspidistra… And jicama claims to be a good alternative to a water chestnut – so presumably will also spoil an otherwise nice meal. I may never discover the delights of taro-eating because, I read, it requires a warm, 200 day growing season.

Can you sense my lack of optimism? Well, I might be a little less sniffy if my spuds are reduced to blackened wreckage by phytophthora infestans. So any practical experience of these or other alternative tubers would be most welcome.