Thursday, October 7, 2010

Veggie Might: As for Me and My House, We Will Serve the Veggies

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

My Fair Readers, this just in: America hates veggies! The Center for Disease Control released the data and the New York Times reported it. Also, the sky is falling.

Credit: NatalieMaynor.
Why are only 26.3% of our fellow Americans eating the recommended three or more vegetable servings a day? A slightly more encouraging 32.5% of us are eating two or more fruit servings, but still. That’s less than a third.

This does not compute. Farmers markets and local, seasonal cooking are all the rage; Michelle Obama is hot on the case with her victory garden and Let’s Move! initiative, and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s has implemented programs such as Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. What’s not clicking, America?

Access is a likely culprit; convenience is another. Intimidation and taste are ties for third.

We’ve talked about access before. Food deserts and the high cost of produce send people right for the Hot Pockets. But right next to the Hot Pockets (in your grocer’s freezer) is frozen veg, and that’s the better choice every time.

Luckily, access to fresh produce is getting better. Farmers markets are cropping up (pardon the pun) in underserved areas and, more and more frequently, they accept food stamps and WIC vouchers, but it’s hard to get the word out.

Surprisingly, the CDC data doesn’t show much difference in our vegetable eating habits across income levels, particularly when it comes to fruit. The spread is about 8% for vegetables, while the lowest and highest income brackets are only separated by .7% for fruit, with the middle group coming in .8% below the low bracket.

According to the New York Times article, a market research company, NDP Group, has recently released it’s annual report “Eating Patterns in America.” It’s findings were similar to those of the CDC, but went further into the whys.
“‘The moment you have something fresh you have to schedule your life around using it,’ [Harry] Balzer [analyst for NDP] said.

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.

‘Before we want health, we want taste, we want convenience and we want low cost,’ Mr. Balzer said.”
I know it’s not easy, but the time and financial savings of convenience food is all in the perception. Before we started dating, my Charming Boyfriend ate pizza four out of seven nights at week. Not because he can’t cook, but because he lived upstairs from a pizza joint. In the nine months, we’ve been together--and cooking with lots of seasonal vegetables--he’s lost 10 pounds and seen a real difference in his bank account. Those veggies are easy to sneak in to his favorites--even pizza.

Veggies seem inconvenient because there is a perception that they take ages to prepare. But it’s not true! Just ask Jennifer Rubell, the vegetable butcher. She, along with her friend and mentor Mario Batali, is on a mission to eliminate intimidation and exorcise childhood trauma of bad-tasting veg.

At Eataly, Batali’s Italian-style marketplace in New York City, Rubell shows chops, peels, and advised customers on the best ways to use veggies at home, much like regular butcher would for meat.
“‘The idea is to remove any obstacle from people cooking at home. We’ll trim your beans...we’ll clean your mushrooms,’ says Batali. The whole stand is more or less to give you the information to disarm the vegetable to make it easier to cook. Like anything can be sautéed or even for that matter eaten raw. You can take almost any of the vegetables in this whole area and shave them thin enough and dress them with a little extra virgin olive oil and they’re so good.’”
Rubell hopes the job catches on too. “‘I have a fantasy that people will go into their supermarkets all over America and say let me be a vegetable butcher for a week and see if you sell more vegetables. See if your customers are happier and then it could be a new profession in America.’” Sign me up.

So readers, how do you fit in your fruits and veggies? Do you beat the national average? Take the CDC questionnaire and find out.

The CDC Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Questionnaire
Get out your No. 2 pencils and get ready to do some math. Sample responses are as follows: twice a week, three times a month, ten times a year. Go!
  1. How often do you drink fruit juices such as orange, grapefruit, or tomato?
  2. Not counting juice, how often do you eat fruit?
  3. How often do you eat green salad?
  4. How often do you eat potatoes, not including French fries, fried potatoes, or potato chips?
  5. How often do you eat carrots?
  6. Not counting carrots, potatoes, or salad, how many servings of vegetables do you usually eat?
How to calculate your daily fruit and veg intake: divide by 7 for weekly frequencies, 30 for monthly frequencies, and 365 for yearly frequencies. Add the answers to questions 1-2 for daily consumption of fruit and the answers to questions 3-6 for vegetables.

Okay, so it’s not as fun as the Cosmo Quiz, but it’s much more useful. Let us know your results in the comments. Sing it, choir.


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