Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finding Love for Vegetables

080711garden harvest06
Harvesting chamomile among the garden veggies

The New York Times just reported on an interesting study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found Americans aren't eating their vegetables. A quarter of us don't eat veggies three times a day, and all together we're eating half the vegetables health experts recommend.

I certainly struggle: I expect my kids to eat their veggies, even to crave veggies, but I certainly don't model that kind of enthusiasm. The problems the NYT article points out -- particularly the time needed to prep fresh vegetables -- resonate in my home. The kids don't mind vegetables; it's the grownups who tend to dismiss them.

My family has been trying to put vegetables more front and center in our lives and on our plates. We converted a good amount of our tiny yard into a garden, and the edible plants -- which grow with little attention from me beyond watering -- are now spilling over into our front yard. I take one of my boys to the farmer's market each week, and the kids help choose the week's produce. We have more meatless meals. But when we're pressed for time, vegetables are the first thing to get cut from our meals. And they're an afterthought at snack time.

I'm acutely aware that I'm lucky to be able to offer as many good vegetables as I do, and that it still isn't enough. I have enough land and time to grow a modest garden, learning as I fumble through the seasons. I have time to go the farmer's market, and a child who makes the outing easy to manage. The veggies at the market are fresher, taste better, and are cheaper than what I find at the grocery store. I love that food stamps can be used at the farmer's market, but there's still the challenge of finding time for a market visit, getting there, and prepping all that fresh stuff.

080629zucchini2The idea of vegetables as "high art," as the Times article puts it, spells big trouble. Snobbery when it comes to vegetables is ridiculous -- and yet I worry I'm adding to the problem when I write here about an unusual vegetable that might be unavailable at a big-box grocery store, or hard to find outside my small corner of the world.

I was happy to see results of another study looking at Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard program: "Students who gardened ate one and half servings more of fruits and vegetables a day than those who weren’t in the program." You might have seen early this year the Atlantic Monthly's overwrought essay excoriating the program as a detraction from the education of our kids. A schoolyard garden isn't going to solve all the woes of our educational system, but I find it impossible to argue with teaching children how to grow, prepare, and enjoy their own food. You can of course tie in math, botany, reading, and more, but frankly I'm happy enough to see kids learn a bit of self-sufficiency and indulge their curiosity.

We're a month into the school year, and the most excited I've seen my first-grader has been when he's telling me about the bean-growing experiment his class is conducting, and his visits to the school garden. While I can't get him to help in our home garden, at school he was thrilled to nibble on raw zucchini, sample midget cantaloupe and yellow watermelon, and plant seeds for the winter growing season. He learned that while he doesn't care much for the big, thick broccoli stalks common at stores, the slender home-grown broccoli is pretty tasty. I agree -- so I've tucked some broccoli seeds in our small garden.

Small, simple steps.

Does your family eat enough vegetables?


Cindy Rowland said...

We probably don't get enough. We're better than we used to be though. And sometimes my kids eat way more than I do simply because I make more of a push to get veggies in front of them.

While I'm sure it's helpful, I'm not sure the garden is a sure way to make things happen. Maybe for our generation it's all exciting and new and encourages us to chow. But my in-laws have been tending huge gardens for ages and I feel like my intake decreases substainally whenever we visit them. Go figure. I still have no idea what they do with all the fresh produce coming out of their garden.

I feel like I've read in a few nutrition books that veggies are good, but it's not like we can't get out vitamins and minerals elsewhere and it's not the end of the world if kids refuse them.

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous photo with the boy and the huge vegetables in his arms!

Liz said...

We've just started ordering one of those weekly boxes of mystery vegetables from an organic delivery service and I think it's definitely helping us eat more veggies. It also helps our meals to be more veggie-centric rather than meat-centric like they normally are.

Darienne said...

@Cindy -- One of my favorite things about the home garden is the convenience. I'm much more likely to use zucchini when I can just step outside and grab one, rather than planning for it on a grocery list and then using it before it gets too rubbery in the fridge.

@peasepudding -- Thanks! That's an old photo. Just two plants that year, and I still had a "take some!" table out front.

@Liz -- I love the CSA boxes. We used to get ours from a farm that let us pick a few things to exclude, which solved the problem of too much kale. I still composted far too much of it, though.


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