Friday, September 24, 2010

Vegetables? What vegetables?

I just saw this article in the New York Times about Americans not eating their vegetables. Here are some quotes and my thoughts on them, but really I recommend reading the whole article (it's short!).

"The moment you have something fresh you have to schedule your life around using it."

Yes, it's true. To an extent.
Did you know that a head of lettuce can last for about a week in the fridge after you wash it? Same goes for kale, arugula, and swiss chard. We soak the leaves in salt water to get rid of any yuck/critter. Then we spin dry the leaves in our cheap yet awesome salad spinner. We store the leaves in a large plastic container with paper towels in between layers of leaves. You know what that means? That means you can buy green leafy goodness before the day you plan to use it. I'm not suggesting you buy kale without a plan for how to cook it. Instead, buy the kale with the commitment to figure out what to do with it in 5-7 days.

"In the wrong hands, vegetables can taste terrible. And compared with a lot of food at the supermarket, they're a relatively expensive way to fill a belly."

True and false.
My father didn't like a lot of vegetables for years because of his experience with them as a kid. I didn't like tomatoes AT ALL unless they were processed (think pasta sauce, ketchup) until I had good tomatoes. So yeah, you probably ought to follow a recipe or some kind of food preparation tips when trying new veggies. The internet is a great place to look for recipes based on ingredients, and many basic cookbooks (e.g., Better Homes and Gardens) have suggestions for simple yet totally edible/tasty preparations of vegetables.

As for the expense of fresh produce, I justify the expense in a few ways. Fresh produce will fill my belly more than many processed foods. I end up buying fewer processed foods, and I end up eating less because the fresh stuff fills me more. Fresh produce gives me more energy and keeps me healthier. In the long run, I believe eating more vegetables will reduce my health care costs. For what it's worth, I've been noticing that my exercise routine is easier when I eat more fruits and vegetables.

"Before we want health, we want taste, we want convenience and we want low cost."

This is just so short-sighted. What good are convenience and low-cost if we aren't healthy? And as for taste, figure out which vegetables you like and how you like them prepared. Then you'll have taste. For example, roasted cauliflower with some curry powder (or even just salt and pepper) tastes NOTHING like raw cauliflower. Roasted cauliflower is easy to prepare too. Put on baking sheet, sprinkle with seasoning, bake at 400 until done (sorry, I don't watch the clock when I do it).

"A busy Manhattan resident... would eat more vegetables if they weren't, in her words, 'a pain.'"


I have a hard time countering this point of view. Vegetables do take more preparation than a lot of foods. If you are cooking fresh vegetables, then there is washing and chopping and seasoning and cooking. If you start from frozen or canned, you still probably have to wash/rinse. You might need to chop. You definitely still season and cook.

The previous quote is followed with this one:
"An apple you can just grab... but what am I going to do, put a piece of kale in my purse?"

When my son was around 12-15 months old, I used to pack frozen peas as part of his morning snack. No, I didn't try to feed him kale back then. Instead I opened the bag of frozen peas, poured them in a plastic container, and put them in the diaper bag. By the time he was hungry, the peas had thawed. And yes, he actually ate this.

Some vegetables are not very portable, like kale. Other vegetables can be quite easy to grab. You just might need to think about how, which of course is a pain to have to think about how to eat healthfully.

I completed resonated with the next quote though.
"It's just like any other bad habit. Part of it is just that vegetables are a little intimidating. I'm not afraid of zucchinis, but I just don't know how to cook them."

I think there was a time in our society that kids learned how to cook from their parents, by watching and helping, maybe by being given small tasks like washing vegetables or peeling onions. I didn't learn how to cook vegetables from my parents, and I didn't learn much in my middle school home economics course (do those still exist?). I don't think I'm unusual in this respect. I learned survivalist cooking in college, which included things like making teriyaki chicken in the toaster oven and discovering that Lucky Charms cereal with frozen yogurt tastes awesome any time of day. I don't remembering buying that many vegetables in college, and I can clearly remember being uninterested and/or overwhelmed by the idea of a salad bar. The most positive vegetable experience I can remember from college was a dish at Bob Evans Restaurant in which you could have 3 or 4 side dishes as your meal. You inevitably ended up with some form of orange or green vegetable as a part of this. I loved it because it was like having a mini-buffet on my plate.

Anyway, I reminisce too much. :) My point is that I didn't enter adulthood knowing much about vegetables beyond the idea that I should eat them. Sometime after college, probably largely influenced by Aaron since he was a vegetarian when we first met, I began exploring vegetables beyond green beans, peas, and carrots. And since joining a CSA last summer, I've learned so much more about cooking and enjoying vegetables. It hasn't been that much work, truly! I've had to look at recipes on the internet, ask a neighbor or a farmer for ideas, and then just be brave enough to experiment a bit.

Vegetables don't have to be a pain. They can be an adventure. I know I can't really convince anyone to eat more vegetables (see NYTimes article on how the gov't can't persuade us either), but I just had to rant/vent/share some thoughts from the article. Maybe you'll try something new after reading it. I hope so!


  1. Interesting article and great comments Jen. It is sad that so many of us, sadly often including myself, place good health at the bottom of the priority list with convenience at the top. This really gives me pause to think and pick a salad sooner next time I am trying to pick something to go with a meal.

  2. Suzanne - great to hear from you! This article really just hit me. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)