Why Dyeing Food And Beer Green For St. Patrick’s Day Is Actually Kind Of Sad

I’ll be the first to admit it: At one point in my life (read: college) drinking beer dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day felt like my genetic right as a Midwesterner with an Irish surname. And to be sure, every year there are probably millions of people eating and drinking green food and beverages to celebrate the day. But green food has another meaning for the Irish, one that makes the American dyeing tradition kind of… sad.

To be sure, there are plenty of other St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans we Americans enjoy that elicit an exasperated, if not defeated sigh from anyone actually hailing from the Emerald Isle. Like say, depositing the contents of one’s stomach on a busy city street corner in the middle of the day while a parade goes by.

But NPR’s The Salt blog points to the dark past of green food in Ireland as an even more unsettling example of how some of us just don’t get it over here. As a historian explains, the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, which killed at least a million Irish in six years, pushed starving people to the edge.

“People were so deprived of food that they resorted to eating grass,” she explained. “In Irish folk memory, they talk about people’s mouths being green as they died.”

She adds that the happy green tint we add to our cookies, cakes and drinks might seem to conjure the rolling green hills of Eire, it can still seem odd to actual Irish people.

“Before I came to America, I’d never seen a green bagel.” She says. “For Irish-Americans, they think of dying food green, they think everything is happy. But really, in terms of the famine, this is very sad imagery.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

You can follow MBQ on Twitter while she seeks out a Guinness real quick-like: @marybethquirk

The Dark History Of Green Food On St. Patrick’s Day [NPR's The Salt]

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  1. Shea says:

    I disagree that green food on St. Patrick’s day has absolutely anything to do with the potato crop failure that starved millions. After reading the original article I personally believe this is a poor false cause argument:
    A. The potatoes famine happened and the Irish immigrated to America.
    B. Americans celebrate an Irish holiday by dying food green.
    C. Therefore Americans unknowingly dye food green because of the potato famine.

    Green has historically been a color associated with Ireland- that’s the reason people celebrate with green clothing, decorations, and food. Yes, some Europeans believe Americans celebrate holidays a little bizarrely but that doesn’t mean they are insulted by it.