I’ve Seen the Future of Vegetable Consumption, And Its Name Is Cooking What You Grow


Stephen Colbert completely called it in his Congressional testimony last week. Suggesting that the obvious way to help migrant farm workers would be for Americans to stop eating fruits and vegetables, he noted, "And if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you’ll see that many Americans have already started.”

Indeed, a September 24 New York Times story titled "Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries" snarkily chronicles the failure of all campaigns to get Americans to eat more vegetables.  But excuse me if I say I don't get it.

Seriously, if you are an adult and you are not eating lots of vegetables, what are you eating?  Boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen fish sticks, and the occasional chop slapped on the grill?  Baby food, right?  Personally, I would expire of boredom.

Because you cannot cook ANY of the world's great cuisines without using lots of vegetables, except possibly French, and you're not telling me that all of America is out there making blanquette de veau.

Of course, kids are another story, with their more sensitive palates and sensitivity to what the peer group is eating. I used to think that I could instill a taste for vegetables in the next generation simply by cooking enthusiastically, using the amazing ingredients obtained in my own backyard. I think I may have succeeded with my 12 year-olds. They like candy and soda and chips, but not as much as they like my potato-leek soup made with homegrown potatoes and leeks.

Sadly, however, my 8 year-old daughter Grace has cost me my innocence on this front. She never sits down to the super-excellent dinner I have prepared without curling her nose. She likes it bland, sweet, and preferably factory-made–and finds many ways to evade my program in the kitchen.

But then, there is the Lake Avenue Elementary School Garden Club, where the peer pressure shifts dramatically and the cool kids are the ones who love the greens. Garden Club is a partnership between me and another mom, and Carol and I are possibly ideal together. My contribution: gardening knowledge and a love of food. Carol's: a love of food, a willingness to write group emails, a fantastic kitchen, and the thing I am most lacking…patience with children in large groups. In saintlike fashion, Carol schedules cooking meetings in her kitchen, which I fear will bear the scars for all eternity.

Last Friday, the Garden Club took the biggest head of broccoli I have grown in 20 years of gardening out of the school garden–literally, this thing was the size of a bush–arugula, and enough basil to choke a horse. Then we walked down the street to Carol's nice kitchen.

Another mom, a newcomer, sauteed the broccoli in garlic and olive oil while the rest of us made two kinds of pesto–my team, the arugula team, in an actual mortar and pestle. A bowl of the broccoli was casually placed on the table as we were working, and the kids behaved like hungry wolves served raw meat. I witnessed Grace alone–my Grace!–eating 15 pieces of broccoli. And each child had about three plates of pesto.  When their parents arrived, the parents wolfed it down, too.

Of course the diabolocal thing about Garden Club is that this vegetable consumption is scheduled right after school, when the poor kids are starving.  And in such a big group of garden-minded kids, the ones who say "ew" are the outcasts.

Even the Times story admitted that the Alice Waters-founded Edible Schoolyard program is one of the few ideas proven to increase vegetable consumption: kids who garden and cook at school do eat more vegetables.

That's the power of a garden right there. If you let kids grow and prepare what they are eating, they are simply too conscious of the miracle and too proud of the accomplishment to turn up their noses at beautiful food, just because it's green.


  1. Perhaps it is all in the eating habits, however, a culture with so many cell phones, play stations, iphones, facebook, sitting all day, without burning of calories has to GAIN weight.

    The overfed is another issue. So it is not a migrant thing as simple as the Colbert or anyjuan
    may attempt to describe it.

  2. When my kids were young I always planted a “grazing garden,” sometimes with their help, sometimes without. The mainstays were sugar snap peas in spring and fall, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, berries and later figs.

    All I had to do was suggest that they pick the vegetables and bring them inside for dinner, and instead they would pick them and eat them before they came inside. It was all organic, so who cared if it was washed?

    They never seemed to eat veggies for dinner, but thrived on garden snacks.

  3. What a wonderful post. gardens are a help with getting kids to eat vegetables – and fresh fruit, which I am amazed also elicits a ‘ew!’ I’d like to put in a plea for grannies and grand dads to help on the overeating front, by refusing to indulge the ‘my mother lets me’ syndrome by refusing to serve sweets and soda between meals or before bedtime if you can believe it. Here in Heath the kids get good Heath water, fruit and granny’s wonderful baking – at appropriate moments – and after the first complaint and glare, the complaints are forgotten. This is just the way life is at granny’s house.

  4. I raised three sons who LOVE vegetables and fruit. They prefer salad to just about anything on earth. I too spent many an afternoon grazing in the garden with my kids. Once we sat on the grass and ate half a head of cabbage leaf by leaf, fresh and sweet as honey. And yes, if I were introducing a “new” food to them all it took was having them help me prepare it. Their pride in the preparation along with encouragement from us parents had them gobbling up even squash and okra.

  5. I recently had to spend time with my older brother and his family most of whom are way overweight and unhealthy. I wondered what it was that they ate or did. Like someone else mentioned, they spent a huge amount of time sitting and not doing anything but playing games on their computers or watching movies all while texting (sometimes to each other, in the same room). Meals were ALWAYS fast food, often four times a day! Nobody cooked except maybe one meal on a weekend. They each had favorite combo’s from different restaurants and whoever was doing the food run would stop by multiple places and pick up that round of calories. My understanding is that this is all a hold-over from when they were all putting in massive amounts of work hours and nobody had time to prep and cook and clean up the kitchen. Now some are unemployed and have little money and others have been forced to cut back on hours at work but after years and years of bad habits they don’t seem to see the problem nor are they taking any steps to change.

    In a way I’m grateful for my office job where I don’t even have a window to see the great outdoors – now when I go home I work in the garden until the sun is gone usually nibbling on whatever is nearby.

  6. I think Michael Pollan nailed it when he said that the problem is trying to sell food for its nutrition. Eat this tomato! It’s full of lycopene! Eat this broccoli! It’s full of B12! Eat these beets! It’s a great source of manganese! No one wants to every eat something because it’s good for you. Why not try selling people on food because it’s delicious? I’m more likely to buy chard at the store if you give me a recipe to cook it that makes it delicious rather than a antiseptic list of its nutritional benefits. What a turn off.

  7. Today I packed off my first-grader with a gallon sized bag full of tomatoes and tomatillos for her class because she said “so-and-so in my class doesn’t know what a tomatillo is, and I said I would bring some in, can I, please?” Considering they all grew in “her” garden, it’s a foregone conclusion what my answer would be.

    Still, the only way she’ll eat them raw is in salsa! Oh well. Half a victory.

    Congrats to you, Michele, for being so tenacious.

  8. Have you eaten store-bought vegetables and fruits lately? Most of them taste HORRIBLE! I don’t blame non-gardeners for not eating veggies. I also think store-bought veggies are not very nutritious, which contributes to obesity – at the end of a so-called healthy meal, we may feel full but not satisfied, so we reach for more. The only way around this is to grow yer own, and to share yours with those who cannot garden themselves.

  9. Just last week I was to introduce the teaching staff at my kids’ elementary school to our new garden. I brought with me a gallon bag of tommy-toes, yellow pears, and sweet one-hundreds from the garden at our old campus (long story there). Knowing I’d have to walk through the schoolyard, I should have hidden them – the students pounced ! I eventually had to tell them that the handful of fruits remaining had to go to the teachers. There were many disappointed kids.

    Last Spring these kids would turn up their noses at the Oreos offered for snack in favor of peas, carrots, broccoli, and radishes (even lettuce !) fresh from their own school garden. On the rare days there wasn’t produce available, they’d hang around and sample the herbs, smell the flowers, search for ladybugs & mantids, or study the bees as they worked. And always asking the best questions !

    But the greatest reward came when not one, but several parents thanked me because their children were now asking for vegetables in their lunches or at dinner.

  10. I completely agree with you. We have lost what our grandparents knew all along. You grow it, then you will eat it. I like the after school program. I think that I am going to suggest this at my daughters school. They have plenty of land that a garden would be able to grow big, beautiful vegetables.

  11. This is a charming notion, but many of us live in city neighborhoods where the yards, if they exist, are full of bricks, bottles, glass, lead, old paint and old motor oil. I’d much rather risk the pesticides at the supermarket in my kids’ diet. Bon appetit!

  12. @anna: that’s why container gardening is gaining such a strong following. I live in an apartment on the second floor, so I “get” it. delicious stuff from a Home Depot bucket. community gardens, anyone?

    moving on.

    This was an excellent post. glad to see the next generation gaining an appreciation for veggies. Even if they can’t grow anything in their backyard, they are are still exposed. this is the kind of stuff that they will remember as an adult. thank you.

  13. I love vegetables. I swear, because of unforeseen circumstances, we couldn’t get to the market last weekend, so their was no fruits in the house. I felt like I was gonna starve. Sure there were the few processed foods that I like, but they weren’t filling, and I knew I was eating too much of them three days in. Eating the processed crap gave me no good feeling inside like a fresh piece of fruit does.

    I too am known as the one with the garden at school. All of my other classmates eat garbage for their meals, so when I bring in fresh fruits or vegetables, I get the offputting looks. Whenever I bring something in, the question is “Is that from your garden”. I also have a wide knowledge of fruits and vegetables plus their recipes, many of which they have never even heard of.

    The main thing is to not isolate yourself or your children. If they eat their vegetables and love it, they can pass this on to their friends too.

  14. Children are NOT “going out to play” as we used to. A bunch of sloths! Peel their fingers from the keyboards and phones!

    Colbert was incredible. Love this guy! SO right on target! I can’t believe that the guy you see behind him on the left with the glasses was so stoic! I watched the whole thing on the Internet – I would have been hysterical!

  15. I think the school garden campaigns work really well, but i also think some of the focus to work even better should be in getting the school kids parents involved and more educated as well.

  16. I couldn’t agree more, involving kids in growing their own food goes a long way towards getting them to eat “their” veggies. Adults might be a lost cause if they really don’t like veggies but not kids. I have a vegetarian friend who used to talk about what she would eat, mac and cheese and twizzlers. I think she might be a lost cause, I once saw her shrink back from a delicious looking salad because it was “too colorful”

  17. No one saying what comes immediately to my mind….good food is fun to eat and cooking is fun when you have fresh ingredients, home grown or not. Anyone that likes to eat should learn to cook. It is a basic pleasure you can have whenever you get hungry! I learned to cook to impress my friend of 40 yrs and it’s still fun to try something different with new ingredients. No, I didn’t learn to cook from my mother, I taught myself when I got my own apartment but it is a pleasure our whole family shares. I think people underestimate the fun cooking can be.

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