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.