It’s been a great year for vegetables. The first family has been planting a great vegetable patch in the White House lawns, and now, the fast food industry is gearing up to sell vegetables in school vending machines like they would fast food. As surprising as that is, they really are trying. Their relentless marketing push includes a great advertising campaign that costs over $20 million and tries very hard to reposition baby carrots as the next must-have fashionable snackfood for teenagers. They are even bringing up designer carrots, tomatoes and lettuce raised from heirloom seeds to be auctioned off at Sotheby’s right next to their Picassos and Rembrandts. All of these techniques are aimed at one thing and one thing only – getting America to not do the same thing Jay Leno is so proud of – staying away from vegetables and sticking to meat all the time. America has been trying to sell vegetable nutrition to Americans for two decades with every kind of trick in the book – public health initiatives, clearing the way for all kinds of farmers’ markets, dietary guidelines, salad-in-a-bag product positioning and what have you. They haven’t been successful.
Most people, when they respond to any survey on their vegetable-eating habits, try to bring up their french fry addiction as something they deserve credit for. French fries really don’t countthough. The CDC has found that only a quarter of all Americans have a portion of vegetables or fruits in their daily diets three times a day (and that’s counting a leaf of lettuce in a heart clogging hamburger too). There has been no improvement to that figure in ten years. Students at school cafeterias are ordering less than half the amount of vegetables that they used to.They’re beginning to believe that merely giving people the right kind of advice and making vegetables easy to get to eat isn’t helping. It’s time to find a way to push vegetable nutrition among Americans even more strongly.
The thing is, without the right cooking techniques, vegetables can taste really bland. And compared with a lot of ready-made stuff you can get on the processed foods shelves, vegetables are more expensive, are more trouble, and they don’t last as long. The health benefits that come from eating vegetables are a long way off too. The way they taste and what they cost are in the here and now. They are even more difficult to put up with for the effort they require. An apple or banana are things you can just put in your handbag. What on earth do you do with a cabbage or tomato?
Still, the industry is trying to hit back. Veggies that are washed, diced and completely ready-to-eat make vendors of those products $3 billion a year. They’ve found that children who have a bit of introduction to the soil tend to be more open to vegetables on their dinner plates than children who don’t. Schools are rolling out gardening programs called the Edible Schoolyard for this too.