By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A six-ton replica potato, strapped to the trailer of a semi-truck, is on a coast-to-coast U.S. tour to promote the tuber that is Idaho's claim to fame but has fallen out of favor with diet gurus for its carbohydrate content.
The towering model, built of metal and cement, is the Idaho Potato Commission's way of heralding 75 years of marketing the potassium-rich product that has put Idaho on the map and the state's spuds on the table.
The "Famous Idaho Potato Tour" peeled out of Boise on Monday equipped with an entourage that includes a publicist. The supersized spud is to make stops in major cities, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago and New York.
The outsized ambassador has also been tasked with a special diplomatic mission to the U.S. agriculture department in Washington, D.C., in hopes federal officials will eye the humble potato in a new light, said Frank Muir, president of the commission.
Idaho's 12-billion-pound (5.4-billion-kg) output accounts for a third of annual U.S. potato production. The top market for Idaho russets is New York, where chefs prize the trademarked potato for its light texture,
Yet the agriculture department last year eyed - but ultimately shelved - a plan to cut the number of potato servings in school lunches to lower the amount of starchy vegetables served to students. Low-carb, high-protein diets like Atkins have also sprouted anti-potato talk.
Muir said he has been battling potato propaganda for nine years. He said the 32-state, seven-month tour of the oversized tuber will root out any misconceptions about an Idaho product that last year was certified "heart healthy" by the American Heart Association.
"Look at the potato: It's oblong, it's brown . . . it's not as pretty as cauliflower or broccoli or even carrots. But it's less about how the food looks compared to how it makes you look," Muir said.
Calling its latest campaign to boost the profile of the produce "huge," the commission hopes the 12,000-pound (5.4 ton) potato will take its place alongside other larger-than-life foodstuff replicas like the Oscar Mayer wiener.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)