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Peeling Potatoes

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"Behold the potato! Bow to this fruit of the earth, and then peel it as if it were the last task of your miserable life!"
Rolf, Ed, Edd n Eddy

It has many names. Kitchen Patrol (aka KP). Spud Bashing. Whatever your detail calls it, it seems you Can't Get Away with Nuthin', and once you're caught it's a Smash Cut to sitting on the floor of a drab kitchen somewhere next to a sack of potatoes, peeling them one at a time.

The stock Punishment Detail in the military in fiction, presumably for its instant-recognizability factor as opposed to, say, digging holes in the ground (read: latrines).

No longer Truth in Television, at least in the U.S. military, due to heavy use of third-party contractors who employ civilians to do this kind of stuff. Well, that and there are machines that peel potatoes these days.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Alluded to in Infinite Stratos. In the first season OVA, while the girls are preparing dinner, Laura is given the potato peeling duties. She does so by chopping her combat knife clean through the center. Her dialogue also indicates she's done this before. She's the only one of the main characters who has been in the military.
  • In the second chapter of Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam, Kincaid tells Tobia that if he's going to be part of their group, he's going to have to earn his keep. Cut to them both in the mess, peeling potatoes (with a badly damaged blender in the background).
    Tobia: I want to ask... you guys aren't letting me join just because you need someone to peel potatoes, are you?
    Kincaid: Hahaha! Nah! I'm a pilot, but I still have to do this in my free time.
    Tobia: Eh...I guess they don't pay too well, either.
    Kincaid: (deflated) No, they don't.
  • Warrant Officer Oreldo in Pumpkin Scissors is very good at peeling potatoes and references this trope as the reason why.
  • In the second season of Strike Witches, Gertrud gets sentenced to this for violating orders.
  • A nonmilitary but definitely punishment version: one of the Tenchi Muyo! OVA episodes had Ryoko, Ayeka, and Mihoshi doing this as their share of repairing the extensive damage to a hot spring resort, with varying results. Ryoko did a hack job on hers with questionable accuracy, Ayeka primly carved each millimetre of skin with painstaking deliberation and took way too long, and Mihoshi outstripped both easily (and boasted about it).

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: A standard facet of life in a Roman camp. Despite, y'know, being set before the discovery of the potato, or even the New World.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In a Scrooge McDuck story, Donald and his nephews were stuck in a ship, condemned to peel potatoes until the return to Duckburg... and to make things worse, with a counting parrot that started to see how many were there!
  • This was parodied/lampshaded in an issue of G.I. Joe, where several Joes peel potatoes and basically take turns complaining until the uber-serious Gung Ho tells them to stop bellyaching and do their jobs.
  • Green Lantern: It happened to Alan Scott when he was in the army. Unable to explain his absence without blowing his secret identity, he was assigned potato peeling as a punishment. Fortunately for Alan, his sidekick Doiby Dickles was able to take over the peeling when Alan needed to become Green Lantern again.
  • Spoofed in the Lucky Luke album Le Vingtieme de Cavalerie (lit. the 20th Cavalry), after an Indian raid during which the food stores are burned. Luke sees four men sitting on the ground around a bucket making peeling hand motions. When he queries the Sergeant, he is informed that these men have been assigned to peel potatoes, and life in the cavalry goes on, potatoes or no potatoes. The sergeant then berates the men for not pretending to peel thinly enough and tells them that the colonel will pretend to inspect the pretend peels personally.
  • Mickey Mouse Comic Universe: Floyd Gottfredson's The Pirate Submarine.
  • The Simpsons: In one issue, Grampa tells one of his many war stories. In this one, he spent a great deal of his military service peeling potatoes. He was so good at it that he became a war hero.
  • Seen in the French-Belgian comic series Les Tuniques Bleues.

    Comic Strips 
  • Beetle Bailey: It happens to the titular character quite often.
    Plato: Did you know that if it wasn't for the Potato Famine, John F. Kennedy would never have become president?
    Beetle: Plato, only you could think of that at a time like this.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: After entirely failing to stop Keeper Mercury from reaching the Avatar Islands, the fairy reconnaissance squad is given kitchen duty. However, once their superiors start to realise just how dangerous Mercury actually is, they reconsider the punishment, figuring it probably wasn't the fairies' fault.
  • In the remastered version of The Night Unfurls, one misfortune of Olga's Break the Haughty sequence involves peeling potatoes at the cook Boris's request. Rather than a Punishment Detail, Olga and the rest of the Great Escape crew need dinner, so someone's gotta help out. Furthermore, she accepts his request because she imagines that Kyril would forbid her from eating if she were to pull some sort of stunt. On a humorous note, Olga lampshades her current predicament — formerly Dark Queen, now a glorified potato peeler.

    Film — Animated 
  • Shown as part of Jim's "character development through manual labor" maturation sequence in Treasure Planet, along with other related drudgery like a mountain of pots to wash, barnacle scraping (in space!), etc. In this case, the potatoes are actually all-purpose alien fruit-vegetable-things called "purps", but we still get the same imagery you normally get when this trope is played straight: the big pile to be peeled, the paring knife, the lonely corner, and Jim distracting himself from the mundanity of his task with memories and fantasies, as well as the idea of huge amounts of work being piled on the lowest-ranked crew member in order to show him his place and keep him busy.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • An example not involving potatoes, but the other unpleasant aspects of K.P. duty. Following one of Lou's usual screw-ups in Buck Privates, the Drill Sergeant Nasty tells him that he's going to make him an admiral. Lou says he didn't know the army had admirals, and the sergeant assures him he is going to be in charge of all of the army's vessels. Cut to Lou on K.P., washing a gigantic stack of dirty pots.
  • In the 1994 Pauly Shore vehicle In The Army Now, Shore's character, Bones, is constantly ordered to do push ups every time he screws in boot camp. When Bones and his friends are deployed to a war zone, he screws up in front of his commanding officer, who orders him to do some push ups. When Bones easily does the push ups, he's then sentenced to peeling potatoes every time he screws up. When he and his friends run afoul of a Special Forces Squad, one of the commandos throws some food at Bones, misses, and smears their Commander, who sentences him to peeling potatoes.
  • The Sad Sack (with one Jerry Lewis) ended this way, as a punishment for putting one bullet through two full glasses!. His Sneeze of Doom causes an avalanche of the spuds behind him.
  • Babydoll and Rocket converse while peeling potatoes in one scene of Sucker Punch; Babydoll is so distracted we see she's "peeled" the same strip of potato over and over, leaving a large hollow in it.
  • Used as a punishment in Tigerland for Army draftees during the Vietnam War.
  • The League of Gentlemen. In order to maintain discipline among the ex-officers turned potential bank robbers, everyone takes their turn at mess duties. During the Hard-Work Montage we see one man checking a submachine gun, then the camera pans over to Richard Attenborough's character who's sitting next to him peeling a large pile of potatoes with an annoyed look on his face.

  • In 1066 and All That, Simmel/Lambert/Wormkin (the text varies) is made an escullion as a punishment for his attempted (and largely incomprehensible) rebellion. In an illustration, he is shown peeling something that looks like a potato.
  • Between Planets. The protagonist isn't allowed to join the Venusian guerillas unless he has useful skills. He says he's a good shot with a handgun, can speak the language of the native Venusians... and knows how to wash lots of dishes (because he was working at a Greasy Spoon until then). His officer quips that the last is indeed a useful skill for a soldier.
  • In The Bio of a Space Tyrant series by Piers Anthony, the protagonist on joining Jupiter's military thinks that they've surely developed technology to automate kitchens over the past few centuries, and concludes that the military keeps Kitchen Patrol (along with polishing boots and brass despite the existence of permashine in the civilian community) just to make the recruits miserable.
  • Discworld
    • In Feet of Clay, Nobby thinks to himself that anyone who responds to "Who likes good food?" in the military is going to be volunteered for KP duty, as part of an internal monologue as to why you should never volunteer for anything.
    • In Mrs Bradshaw's Handbook, Sto Lat Military Academy teaches the sons of gentlefolk to be officers. In keeping with the class of recruit, punishment details include julienning potatoes (as well as polishing oyster knives and waltz drills).
  • In The Great Brain At the Academy this is a standard punishment. It's set in a Catholic academy/boarding school in the late 19th century. You can imagine that a school of boys needs as many potatoes as a navy ship.
  • In Spike Milligan's war memoirs, he mentions entertaining himself during these duties by peeling the potatoes down to the size of peas... which made no difference, because they cooked the peel as well.
  • In the book, See Here, Private Hargrove, (1942) it is frequently an object of punishment. The book's setting was before the U.S. entered WWII.
  • In The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted, the Rat mentions that in the modern spacefaring military Kitchen Patrol is considered so degrading that it is forbidden to assign it as a punishment and, therefore, it is always assigned as a punishment. When subjected to it himself he snaps, and when he comes to he's nearly killed the chef.
  • Done by the Drill Sergeant Nasty to the trainees in the Kim Newman novella Teddy Bears' Picnic. In a particular sadistic twist, he changes his mind and then orders the recruits to glue the skins back on.
  • X-Wing Series: As Mildly Military as Wraith Squadron could be, even they have punishment detail. The very first time all of the members of the new squadron were together at once, while Wedge was listing off their respective specialties, Face Loran decided to interrupt.
    Wedge: "Face is one of our insertion experts, proficient in makeup, speaks several languages other than Basic—"
    Face: "Don't forget, master actor."
    Wedge: *nods amiably* "And sometime cook. You're peeling tubers on kitchen duty tonight. Do you have anything else to add?"

    Live Action TV 
  • Kendra Shaw in Battlestar Galactica: Razor
  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. does this a lot. Unlike many other examples, he has next to no issues with the task.
  • On Mad Men, when the Drapers take in Betty's semi-senile WWI veteran father, Don comes home one day to find he's peeled all the potatoes in the house thinking he was on KP duty.
  • M*A*S*H: Klinger was frequently threatened with KP duty if he didn't knock off his Zany Scheme of the week to get a Section 8. Occasionally we saw him pulling KP duty including, yes, peeling potatoes.
  • In the Expository Theme Tune to Open All Night Gordon is shown in the army peeling potatoes; this is basically what he did during his entire tour.
  • Rimmer and Lister were forced to do this in an episode of Red Dwarf after ticking their captain off. Only they have the bluntest knives it's possible to find, and a mountain of potatoes that fills an entire cargo bay. So Lister has the "great" idea of getting out of having to peel the potatoes by having a special virus eat the potato skins. Unfortunately for the duo, the virus also eats clothes. And it spreads on contact.
  • Saturday Night Live's parody of "The Navy: It's Not Just A Job, It's An Adventure" ad campaign features this.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati episode "Who is Gordon Sims" establishes that Venus had deserted the Army . . . days before his scheduled discharge. The episode ends with a whispered conversation between Andy and Les, with Andy acting as if they were discussing classified information:
    Andy: He's working for the United States Army.
    Les: What's he doing for them?
    Andy: He's peeling potatoes.

  • In Laurent Pelly's production of the opera La Fille du Régiment, Marie peels potatoes in the scene where Tonio confesses his love for her. Not as a punishment, but because she's the only female in the regiment and therefore is saddled with the kitchen duties. She has Tonio take over the peeling while she confesses her own love for him in reply.

    Video Games 
  • Dead Space 3 has Private Tim Caufman being threatened by General Mahad with this punishment when he misplaces the munitions key.
  • The Escapists 2 gives you the opportunity to do this whenever you get sent to solitary confinement. Doing so reduces the amount of time you have to spend there.
  • While the actual event didn't happen in game, in Wing Commander II, three of the survivors of the Tiger's Claw reminisce about a prank committed by a pilot from the first game who didn't live to the second that landed him doing this for a week.

  • Girl Genius: While Agatha is still newish to the circus she is set to peeling vegetables with Embi. It's not so much a punishment detail as it is one of many ways the circus folk try to keep her too busy to unveil their secrets in the months she travels with them.
  • Lil Mell had Mell and Sergio put on potato-peeling duty when the homeschooled kid Mell brought for show and tell started a revolution against the school. Sergio lampshaded this by wondering where all the potatoes came from. (The cafeteria ladies. They joined the rebellion on the students' side.) Then Mell started a competing revolution, armed with the two potato peelers.
  • Schlock Mercenary: Schlock, Kevyn and Brad were sentenced to this once. Schlock, being a Blob Monster, peeled them with digestive juices rather than the peeler.
    Kevyn: "Tell no one how we finished so quickly."
    Brad: "I'm having stuffing instead of potatoes this week."

    Web Original 
  • The Strong Bad Email "pet show" has Strong Bad triumphantly announcing that he's doing this as a way to get out of admitting that he and The Cheat lost the competition.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of Chowder saw Mung and his titular apprentice in servitude to Endive in exchange for an exotic fruit necklace. Their final task was to peel "growtatoes", which are just like normal potatoes, except they grow exponentially until fully peeled and threatened to crush the two chefs.
  • The 1942 Donald Duck cartoon Sky Trooper where he joins the Army Air Corps, and has to peel potatoes after he nearly gets his training officer killed in a mishap.
    • He also starts that one peeling potatoes, watching planes go by and wishing he were in one of them... and he absentmindedly peels one potato into an airplane...which flies and brings Sergeant Pete's hat back to him... which he absentmindedly starts peeling.
      • He also ends "Donald Gets Drafted" peeling spuds, while the last verse of the specially-made song "The Army's Not The Army Anymore" plays sarcastically in the background:
      The Army's not the Army anymore
      It's better than it's ever been before
      The Sargent isn't tough anymore, He's careful not to bore you
      Just tell him when you're peelin' spuds, And he will peel them for you
      (Donald holds up a just peeled-off potato peel spelling "Phooey!" at this point)
  • A few Donald Duck cartoons have this, even DuckTales (1987) (usually because he messes up a lot in the Navy). In one cartoon where he plays a large role and his three nephews accidentally get him in trouble, they sneak into the kitchen to help him because of it.
  • In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Will Work For Ed", Ed gets a job on Rolf's farm, and his first task is to peel a huge mountain of potatoes. Edd attempts to help, first by MacGyvering a peeler out of a hairpin, then building a machine to do the job faster; Rolf's mad enough at that, but he's absolutely livid when he sees Eddy using a tennis racket to julienne the spuds.
  • Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats: When Heathcliff joins the French Cat Legion, he is forced to peel potatoes after annoying his drill instructor.
  • In an episode of The Jetsons where George joins the army, he's assigned this. It involves pressing two buttons, one to peel an entire sack of potatoes in a second, and one to mash them. He spends both seconds complaining about how hard punishment detail is.
  • This was the first task that Mr. Bogus was forced to do during his first day of military training in the first act of the episode "Battle Action Bogus".
  • Private Snafu: Snafu is stuck on KP in "Gripes"; peeling potatoes with with his feet while scrubbing pots with his hands and sweeping the floor with his butt.
    I joined this here Army to join in the fun
    A-jabbin' the Jap and huntin' the Hun
    And look at the job that they hand out to me —
    K.P., K.P., K.P. and K.P.
  • Recess: In "The Biggest Trouble Ever", Miss Finster forces T.J. and company to peel potatoes and onions as punishment for accidentally destroying the statue of the town's founder.
  • In the Ren & Stimpy Boot Camp Episode "In the Army", this is done straight the first time, the second time has them scraping potato-peelers over watermelons, and the third time has them scraping potato-peelers over nuclear bombs.
    Stimpy: I think the Sarge likes you best, Ren, because he gave you the most potatoes to peel!
  • In a Mister Know-It-All segment in Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bullwinkle demonstrates how to escape from Devil's Island prison. When Boris the warden forced him to peel potatoes, Bullwinkle decided to jump into a sack and await being shipped off the island. Unfortunately for him, potato soup was for dinner.
    Boris: (Looking into pot of potato soup) Whoever peeled these spuds did crummy job!
    Bullwinkle: (Popping out of the pot) I was doing the best I can!
  • The ending of the classic Disney cartoon Steamboat Willie has Captain Pete punish Mickey for slacking on the job by making him peel potatoes.
  • An episode of TaleSpin features Kit being forced by Colonel Spigot to peel turnips for rebelling at a Thembrian flying camp. Spigot is forced to take the task up after his bumbling is exposed.

    Real Life 
  • Still very much Truth in Television around much of the world, as even in the USA it started to become a Dead Horse Trope only in the '70s when the military started to outsource the service functions like feeding the personnel. Many other armies still do it in-house, providing ample possibility for this trope.
    • Even in ships at sea, where you don't have civilians to outsource the potato peeling to, it's not used as a punishment detail anymore; everybody (below a certain rank) just gets to take a turn.
  • Automated potato-peeling machines were around as far back as World War II. The U.S.S. Kidd (a destroyer-class ship now berthed as a museum in Baton Rouge) has a sign in the kitchen/mess detailing the function of the machine, which worked much like a rock tumbler and lent it the nickname "Marble Maker" after what would happen to potatoes what were left in the peeler for too long. Ships would normally use these because there were too many important tasks to do on a seafaring vessel to waste available hands on needless "busy work" for punishment detail.
  • Interestingly, in the Soviet and Russian army, kitchen patrol was always considered a privilege and not a punishment, as it allowed the soldier to sit in a warm kitchen doing a tedious but easy job, rather than work his ass off doing whatever the seniors saddled him with. Also it basically let the soldier eat whatever he wants whenever he wants, not a set menu at set hours only.
    • Combat soldiers in the IDF tend to have the same opinion for similar reasons—kitchen duty is usually easier and less unpleasant than, say, guard duty, cleaning or maintenance work, and provides access to food outside of meal time. Soldiers in supporting roles tend to have the opposite opinion; their regular duty isn't so unpleasant that the kitchen is an improvement.
    • In the American military, KP duty is an occasional privilege for trainees in Basic Training, though they don't handle any of the food. The trainees are typically kept busy washing dishes, mopping floors, and cleaning up messes, at least in the Air Force. It is considered a privilege because, while it can be back-breakingly exhausting, the trainees can eat whatever they want for mealtime and get to avoid doing Physical Fitness training for a day.
    • It might be becoming a thing of the past in Russia as well, as Russian military have also started to outsource the feeding of its personnel. On the other hand, this reportedly brought a marked increase in both quality and quantity of the food, as civilian contractors are decidedly more professional at cooking than most soldiers, and also steal significantly less than military intendants for fear of losing the contract.
    • In the Finnish Army, peeling potatoes is called perunateatteri ("potato theatre") or pottis and it is considered a convenient, if a tad restricting, break of the army chores and a good chance to socialize with the supply units and eat well. Sometimes, a soldier assigned to the task may not only peel, but sculpt, the potatoes - much to the amusement to anyone either preparing the meal or eating it.