The maximum capacity of her oven is 30 sweet potatoes. Anna Pusateri discovered this while preparing for the International Sweet Potato Extravaganza.
Just before baking her potatoes, Pusateri, head potato of Sweet Potato Club and IU senior, was walking through the aisles of Kroger with a cart filled to the brim with sweet potatoes.
“I did get some weird looks,” Pusateri said.
The International Sweet Potato Extravaganza is an event focused on celebrating the effect of the sweet potato on cultural cuisines throughout the world — a focus directly related to Sweet Potato Club’s main goal of facilitating conversation and fun through sweet potatoes, Pusateri said.
Including contributions from other club members, the grand total of sweet potatoes was more than 50, which were then turned into various dishes. Among these dishes were vegan sweet potato whoopie pies, sweet potato cupcakes, Mexican sweet potato dip and even sweet potato pizza, which served 40 to 50 International Sweet Potato Extravaganza attendees Sept. 21.
Only a year earlier, the club began with just Pusateri and Marlo Owczarzak, vice potato of communications and IU senior. As floormates, Pusateri and Owczarzak would constantly joke about sweet potatoes and trade sweet potato dishes back and forth until eventually they were challenged by a friend to form an official club.
“It was an extension of an inside joke that’s probably gone a little too far, but we’re fine with it,” Owczarzak said.
Since then Sweet Potato Club has gone on to have numerous events, including a sweet potato banquet in a giant gingerbread house. The club is even putting together a Little 500 team dubbed the Couch Potatoes.
“I’m not expecting to win, but I want to win,” Owczarzak said.
As sweet potato season begins, Sweet Potato Club is still full of ideas such as regular farmers market visits to try sweet potato treats from vendors, a lecture about the differences between sweet potatoes and yams, and a “Sweet Potato Club Gets Fit” event at the SRSC. These events would continue far beyond sweet potato season, Pusateri said.
“Every season is sweet potato season,” Pusateri said.
Pusateri said she also wants to have a sweet potato festival in the future and invite local restaurants to share their best sweet potato dishes. She said the winner of the best dish would receive a plaque with a sweet potato club accreditation.
“That is hilarious to me, and it sounds so fun,” she said. “I want this to happen.”
Owczarzak, on the other hand, said she would also like to plan more educational sweet potato events.
“I would love to go to a sweet potato farm in Indiana,” Owczarzak said. “I think it’d be a great educational experience to see how the sweet potato gets from a farm to our plates.”
Beyond the silly events and jokes, Pusateri said she sees Sweet Potato Club influencing the IU campus in a positive way. This involves cultivating conversation and serving as a creative outlet, Pusateri said. Sweet Potato Club is already weird, Pusateri said, so people already feel comfortable getting creative.
“People feel comfortable suggesting something weird or something different and instead of getting weird looks, people embrace their ideas and help make them happen,” she said.
To Owczarzak, the potential effect of Sweet Potato Club is rooted in relationships with others in the club.
“You have people coming in from lots of different backgrounds and the only thing tying them together is sweet potatoes, so you meet a lot of people you never would have otherwise,” Owczarzak said.
In any case Owczarzak said Sweet Potato Club is, at its core, just fun.
“It’s just very wholesome and good, clean fun, and we’re all kind of weird, so why not just embrace it and eat some sweet potatoes together?” Owczarzak said.
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