Monday, June 17, 2013

and now, celebrating National Vegetable Day!

"Eat your vegetables." How many kids shudder hearing that phrase? It's a threat, one of those phrases that definitely has a second, unspoken clause... "Or else!" Sometimes, the threat isn't even the silent kind - "Eat your vegetables or you don't get to go play!" or "You don't get to leave the table until you eat your vegetables!" Even if your parents never spoke those words, the scenario is often viewed in movies or commercials or tv (ie our contemporary culture) as a vegetable-eating martyrdom, a bizarre ritual of childhood that must be completed in order to go on with the rest of the day. The impending green doom of the dinner hour.

When I was younger, I never particularly liked vegetables either. The much-maligned greens were always last on my plate, and second helpings of mushy vegetables unheard of. Frozen vegetables made me wince and gag, with their icy water pooling in the bottom of the bowl. Salad was mostly tasteless, unless smothered in blue cheese dressing. Tomatoes were almost acceptable, but then again, tomatoes are fruit.

In part, I'm sure it's in our tastebuds. The terrifying and fascinating mapping of taste presented in Salt, Sugar, Fat outlined how children develop a taste and longing for the eponymous three things, and how salt and sugar levels, when lowered in products, don't give the same taste satisfaction to kids. If they aren't imminently delectable, kids don't beg for them, meaning sales plummet. Vegetables don't come with that kind of taste built in - by turns mellow, bitter, crunchy, faintly sweet,"tasteless," and with little to no fat to make a smooth taste, we are not genetically primed to crave these vitamin-, mineral-, and all-around-good-stuff-packed powerhouses over a Twix bar.

And yet. Even though it's not necessarily a longed-for taste at first, when you start cooking more vegetables, and eating more fresh things, it feels good. Not just in that I'm-healthy-and-oh-so-much-more-superior snobby style, but a craving develops for the various tastes in and of themselves - they "grow" on you (please pardon my pun). I can hardly believe the anti-veggite child in me can write this, but I think the vegetable deserves poetic odes. Complex flavors and unlimited variety now have me skipping from vegetable booth to vegetable booth at my farmer's market, or careening around the vibrant stacks at Whole Foods, scooping up this and that, trying out tastes that just aren't found anywhere else. It makes me more adventurous, too, challenging me to mine the internet for unusual greens and what to do with them. Garlic scapes? Not a problem, I can make scape-almond pesto! Kohlrabi? Under control. 3 varieties of kale? To the internet to see what spices and sauces play off each variety! My anti-veggite childhood self may just have grown into earth-and-vegetable-adoring maturity.

And so, in honor of National Vegetable Day, I recommend amending the time honored admonishment: "Eat your vegetables because you like them, and ENJOY!"


  1. I crave kale ALL THE FREAKING TIME. And it's not just kale -- broccoli, brussel spouts, collard greens, chard, zucchini... I wasn't at all like this when I was young. Back then, I survived on pasta and sugary things. And while I still have one hell of a sweet tooth, my veggie tooth rivals it now.

    1. Ha! I still have a sweet tooth too, though my sweet tooth has changed over time to like dark chocolate better than milk, and peanut butter with my desserts. It's sort of amazing, though, that once you start eating a plethora of vegetables, their absence is missed and craved, just like other higher sugar foods. We'll have to swap kale recipes one of these days!