For most of his time on Mars, Watney subsists on his crop of potatoes. It’s fitting that the potatoes he uses to sow the crop were intended for the Ares 3 crew’s Thanksgiving dinner; Thanksgiving celebrates the pilgrims’ survival in a new land, and just as the Native Americans’ generosity and humanity saved the pilgrims from starvation, Watney is saved from starvation in a strange new place by the supplies for a Thanksgiving dinner. The potatoes were intended by NASA’s psychologists to foster a sense of fellowship among the astronauts, and this nod to the importance of humanity and community turns out to sustain Watney in a much more physical sense. In this way, the potatoes symbolize the tenacity of life, even in the face of overwhelming odds.
The Potatoes Quotes in The Martian
Why did NASA send twelve whole potatoes, refrigerated but not frozen? And why send them along with us as in-pressure cargo rather than in a crate with the rest of the Hab supplies? Because Thanksgiving was going to happen while we were doing surface operations, and NASA’s shrinks thought it would be good for us to make a meal together. Not just to eat it, but to actually prepare it.
There’s still soil everywhere. No point in lugging it back outside. Lacking anything better to do, I ran some tests on it. Amazingly, some of the bacteria survived. […] it only takes one survivor to stave off extinction. Life is amazingly tenacious. They don’t want to die any more than I do.