2011, “the year of the vegetable”

Hate to admit it, but I can hear my vegetarian friends saying “We told you so!” And they did. Kudos to them for pioneering the way to a healthier lifestyle. I only wish their voices had rung louder, at least in my ears. Of course die-hard meat-eaters will probably stop reading, but I encourage you to keep an open mind, not for my sake, but for your own. I’ve learned my lesson, the hard way. You may have to, as well. It’s up to you. I’d just like to add my voice to those trying to encourage others to stop gorging on toxic food. In the end, it’ll turn around to bite you in the butt, and everywherelse. I’m a long, long way from being a vegetarian, but I’m striving to inch closer and closer to a lifestyle resembling that of my healthy friends. I’ll settle for almost, if not full-blown, vegetarian.

The following editorial article in the Wall Street Journal’s January 3rd edition makes a good case for eating more veggies. Its author, George Ball, is chairman of the W. Atlee Burpee Co. and past president of the American Horticultural Society. Yes, he has a vested interest in that Burpee seeds is a proponent of growing our own produce, but we have a vested interest in prolonging the quality of our lives by eating more fresh produce, homegrown or not.

2011: The Year of the Vegetable

Childhood obesity is now the nation’s disease–an ailment crippling the body politic. The long-term health effects are well-established and include early onset diabetes and premature hip and joint problems. American children are prematurely aging, suffering from sicknesses that were once the provenance of older adults. Old has become the new young.

The lineup of culprits includes school vending machines, the endangered home-cooked meal, vanishing physical-education classes, fried everything, super-sized portions, sedentary hours spent zoned out in front of the computer screen, nutritional ignorance, misleading labeling and more. But whatever and whoever is to blame, it is surely not kids. We cannot expect children to make the right food choices when healthy foods are out of reach and nutrition-smart role models are not in evidence.

The saddest thing about childhood obesity is that it’s unnecessary. It’s inexcusable that in the breadbasket of the world American children ar eating so much lousy food. First lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative, “Let’s Move,” represents a welcome beginning to what will have to become a nutritional revolution.

As an agriculturist and horticulturist, I believe that the answer is simple. As parents, educators, nutritionists and marketers, we have to imbue our children with the love of–and consumption of–the most beneficial food for growing bodies. This means fresh vegetables and fruits, whether store-bought or home-grown.

As kids, we imitate our elders, who teach most effectively by example. Right now, adults aren’t doing a good job of modeling good behavior. According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 26% of adults have three or more servings of vegetables a day, a number that includes those who deem a tomato slice or lettuce on a burger as a “vegetable serving.” In other words, roughly 80% of U.S. adults scarcely eat any vegetables at all.

Liking vegetables is not a given:  Every food other than breast milk is an acquired taste. But children can easily learn to enjoy eating their greens. It’s simply a matter of education and familiarity–as in “family.” Children will happily eat squash, artichoke or broccoli, to the delight of the parents who taught them to do so. As for fruits, children can gobble them up, but like vegetables, they must be at the ready, at least as available as all the junky alternatives.

In our research at Atlee Burpee, we have found that kids who grow vegetables alongside their parents eat them regularly and with gusto. Peas, green beans and raw carrots–the very vegetables that kids are told to eat, their parents’ admonishing fingers wagging–are particular favorites.

While not all American families have the benefit of a sun-filled backyard for a vegetable garden, companies like Burpee offer many vegetable seeds and plants that you can grow easily in containers. You can grow beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, which can be plucked from the stalk well into winter.

Eighteen years ago, as president of the American Horticultural Society, I initiated a children’s gardening program. Our annual symposium drew thousands of educators and community gardeners with the goal of educating and inspiring children to grow gardens in their school and neighborhoods. The results were heartening:  Thousands of churches, schools and community centers sprouted new gardens.

Yet no single institution is sufficient; fighting a problem of this sort requires a multifaceted effort. Churches could do much more to inspire families to grow vegetables. Public and private botanical and community gardening groups should augment efforts to lure neighbors into their educational demonstration gardens. Most families, whether in the city or suburbs, can plant at least a “starter garden”–involving pre-teen children in the planting, tending and harvesting.

While the first lady deserves the credit for focusing the nation on childhood obesity, it is an issue that both political parties can endorse. Vegetables are deliciously nonpartisan.

Let’s make 2011 the Year of the Vegetable. We have nothing to lose but our waistlines.

In conclusion, two things come to mind. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the oft told tale of children feeding their veggies to the family dog, or veggies disappearing into napkins with one swipe of the mouth. My in-laws actually have an even better anecdote that is often recounted for the benefit of the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. When my husband or any of his siblings lingered too long over their veggies, they were made to sit in the garage until they had devoured every last morsel. As they tell it, the cockroaches that skulked around hiding in corners, or that brazenly crossed the concrete floor, got their fair share of the nasty food. I think they were actually the objects of target practice. Whatever their purpose, the roaches were partners-in-crime with my husband and his siblings.

My second thought on this subject is that 2011 as the “Year of the Vegetable” has a nice ring to it. Although half- Chinese, I’m neither first-generation, nor am I schooled in their ways since my Chinese father died when I was one. As a result, I really don’t identify with that culture’s astrological calendar.  I’m not sure if I was born in the “Year of the Rat,” or the “Year of the Tiger.” Even if I could remember which it is, I’m sure it makes no real difference in my life. But being raised an American, and having bought into our western society’s feeding frenzy for far too long, making this year, and every year hereafter, the “Year of the Vegetable,” makes fundamental sense to my own well-being, and that of all generations, present and future.

reborn in the “year of the vegetable”…hugmamma.  

hugs for sharing some brief thoughts...and keeping them positive

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