I was minding my own and humanity's business on the Internet when I checked my Gmail and found the most horrifying thing.
"Sensational sweet potatoes," said the email.
Why did I click on its contents? I probably shouldn't have. The fact is that my gamble was made in the purest pursuit of journalistic truth.
The e-missive shared recipes for sweet potato pie, sweet potato fries, "baked sweet potato fritters with yogurt dipping sauce," "sweet potato parsnip and celery root mash."
As gag is my reflex, I swear I am not making these things up.
A few days later I was socializing with my kind on Facebook — that's what people do on Facebook — when one of those kinds sent me a video describing the difference between the yam and the sweet potato. (Key: A yam's skin is purple and hairy. A sweet potato's skin has no hair. It is like George Foreman's forehead.)
Did I ask for this graphic and troubling video? No.
I know all I need to know about these two dreaded angiosperms. I've known all too well since the first — and last — time I tasted sweet potato. It was some 50 years ago. It's as if it was yesterday.
I have embargoed sweet potatoes from my alimentary canal ever since. However, it seems that I cannot blockade them from my laptop.
Before the Internet, I was safe. I once had a newsroom office mate place something labeled "pumpkin pie" in my office mail box. I saw through the ruse. It was a sweet potato pie. Shortly thereafter, the police department bomb squad detonated it in a field.
I have written columns about sweet potatoes ever since I began opining for a newspaper in Texas. That's 30-plus years. In Texas, for ill-defined reasons, the orange tuber is particularly popular. Every Thanksgiving since then I have waged a lonely and gallant information campaign about one of the holiday's traditional accoutrements.
My slogan: "Sweet potatoes. You can't eat even one."
I know this is true. My tongue tells me so.
Before I came to Texas, I wrote columns for a small newspaper in Colorado. In Colorado I didn't perceive sweet potatoes to be a serious threat to mankind. I wrote, instead, about the threat posed by zucchinis. Everyone in Colorado seems to be able to grow zucchinis, and everyone seems to think they are edible. They are not.
Rest assured, I reaped the whirlwind for my conscientious anti-zucchini activism. It seemed that every time I went to someone's house my host had some dish which concealed chopped or grated zucchini. Zucchini is easy to disguise.
Not so with sweet potatoes. No one is going to sneak grated sweet potato into my casserole. No one is going to be fooling me with "pumpkin bread" that actually contains you-know-what.
Unfortunately, though my state of vigilance is high, my laptop remains ever-vulnerable.
In the 21st century, some of our greatest minds have devoted themselves to protecting this nation from cyber attack. This is one crucial function of the Department of Homeland Security. I expect to be protected.
So, senators, members of Congress, I beseech you on this national day of prayer and feasting to protect the homeland from cyber-tuber attacks. Receiving virtual sweet potato on a screen is only slightly less horrifying than a steaming red mass of the real thing.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.