The Strange Reason Belgians Are Being Asked To Eat More Fries

It's an understatement to say Belgians like fries. The European country's pommes frites are so ingrained in its culture that its government has even petitioned UNESCO to get the fry officially recognized as an icon of Belgian cultural heritage (via GQ). Since fries are such a key part of people's way of life in Belgium, it's no surprise then that the status of the potato industry is of great importance in that country.

It has become apparent just how much Belgium cares about its spuds recently, as the potato industry faces a surplus of around 750,000 tons due to the nationwide lockdown that the Belgian government implemented on March 18 to slow down the spread of COVID-19. The lockdown led to a decline in demand for frites, which Belgians often eat in bars, restaurants, and food stands, as well as other frozen potato products (via CNBC). And the country's freezer capacity is unable to accommodate the huge surplus of spuds.

Because of this, Belgapom, Belgium's potato industry association, is calling on Belgians to increase their intake of fries, especially frozen fries, to at least twice a week. Romain Cools, Belgapom's secretary general, told CNBC that the organization is working with supermarkets to possibly launch a campaign to encourage Belgians to eat more fries, noting that the intention behind the move is to avoid food waste because "every lost potato is a loss."

Why Belgium wants its citizens to eat more fries

According to Belgium's National Union of Fry-makers, Belgians eat about 84 pounds of fresh potatoes and about 13 to 15 pounds of processed potatoes, such as fries, every year (via TIME). The production of fresh potatoes and snack products, which accounts for 25 percent of the potato industry, has been doing fairly well during the lockdown because more people were cooking and snacking at home. On the other hand, the frozen potato sector, which makes up the other 75 percent of the industry, has been suffering. That's why Belgapom wants Belgians to specifically increase their fry consumption.

Even when the lockdown ends, the cancellation of events such as summer festivals means there will be a prolonged fall in demand for potatoes and therefore, a long-term crisis for producers. To counteract this, Belgapom has put forth other initiatives. It has set up a program to deliver 25 tons of potatoes to food banks weekly. Businesses are also working to export some of their potato supplies to Central Europe and Africa, where demand is high. The potato industry is also considering ways to work with starch factories in order to find alternative uses for the surplus, such as animal feed or biofuel. 

But making citizens aware of the excess stock and encouraging them to consume more pommes frites might be the country's best bet. Belgians now have the perfect excuse to eat as many fries as they'd like: doing their national duty.