Erin Austin
Middle School Honorable Mention - 2012 Food Engineering Essay Contest
Woodbridge, Virginia
A Potato’s Destiny

Cold, damp, and dark; these three words described my surroundings underground. I remember those days of anxiously waiting for the time when I would fulfill my destiny, one that had been drilled into me as a young sprout – to join the ranks of the potato chip, loved by people the world over. It was the same destiny enjoyed by my ancestors but my journey would be quite different from theirs. Incredible advances have been made in the way potatoes are harvested, processed, and packaged over the years thanks to the work of incredibly smart people known as food engineers. Let me show you how these scientists have impacted my journey from field to grocery shelf.

According to my mother’s stories, my ancestors were harvested workers with shovels who plucked potatoes from the cool earth by hand. My experience was much different, thanks to innovative methods created by smart engineers. Instead of taking days to harvest a field, my friends and I were gathered in an instant by an automated harvesting machine that dug us out of the moist soil, separated us from the dirt and rocks, and delivered us to a large truck, ready for transport.

Upon arrival at the chip factory, I encountered another engineering marvel. Unlike the old days where potatoes were washed, peeled, and sliced by hand, I was delivered to an automated chip processing line that moved me under rinsing sprayers, through a cleansing scrub, and into a peeling tumbler before being forced through a slicing machine by a huge corkscrew.

A bit scared out of my skin and sliced really thin, I felt quite vulnerable! I couldn’t see where the conveyer was taking me next, but I could smell hot oil and I realized that’s where I was headed. I splashed into a trough of bubbling liquid and quickly grew hotter and hotter. Then it all clicked: I WAS BEING FRIED!!!

Just as I thought I would die, I was gently pulled out of the hot oil and onto a moving rack where I was lightly salted. Now, this wasn’t just any oil and salt like what was used to make the original potato chips. I benefited from a special blend of oils and a finely flaked salt designed by food engineers to improve my flavor and nutritional value. To preserve my taste and freshness, an air-tight packaging process delivered me to a specially designed bag, where I was sealed up tight, ready for sale.

So now I sit on the shelf of a large supermarket, bagged, tagged, and eager to discover the next phase of my destiny. Will I feed a crowd at a picnic or become a child’s after-school snack? Is there some dip in my future, or will I be eaten plain? Regardless of my fate, I take comfort in the knowledge that my life has meaning and purpose – to bring great taste and enjoyment to those who eat me, thanks to the remarkable efforts of agricultural, mechanical, and other scientific engineers.