September 27, 2010

Marketing vegetables as junk food

Adults have given up trying to get young people to eat vegetables the way they'd be prepared for a home-cooked meal, so they're trying to re-brand them as hip junk food.

You can't blame kids or anyone else for not liking vegetables -- left alone, they taste bland and hurt your stomach. That's why people with any sense, from hunter-gatherers through your grandmother, cook and flavor them. It's only within the fat-phobic period of history -- more or less the past 30 years -- that modern people came to equate "fresh" with "pure" and thus "healthy." Cooked foods -- eww, that's like bacon, french fries, and other things made with animal fat. Thus, raw = good, as long as it's not an animal, but who wants to harm their health by eating that stuff anyway right? That's another blight on civilization caused by fat-phobia -- the rancid salad bar.

In reality, eating fresh vegetables, washed or not, is a quick way to get food poisoning, not just from the native poisons, toxins, and irritants that serve as the plant's defenses, but also from pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. As I've pointed out before here, aside from baked chicken (rarely cooked long enough), the majority of food poisoning cases come from non-animal foods.

And given how nutritionally lacking vegetables are compared to animal products, you often have to heap salt on them to make them worth eating. Assuming you do these things -- cook them and flavor them -- vegetables can taste quite good. Deep frying baby carrots isn't the right way to do that, since that's not so different from potato chips -- lots of starch coated with oxidized vegetable oils. (And if you're looking for something chip-like, just eat pork rinds instead, especially the kind with the skin still attached.)

I eat more vegetables and from a wider variety than the typical vegetarian or vegan does, since studies that follow their diets show that they mostly rely on grains, legumes, pulses, and boatloads of fruit for vegans. Contrary to their propaganda of being leaf-eaters, they're really nothing but sugar-suckers and grain-munchers. And they get away with this because the average person sees any non-animal product as a "plant food."

How do I do it as a poor grad student? Buy canned vegetables and look for sales on the bottled kinds. These are much cheaper because they're not high-maintenance -- they just sit on the shelf -- whereas the supermarket has to regularly rinse the raw ones, keep the flies off, and throw them out before too long. Better yet, the shelf vegetables are already cooked somehow: spinach is boiled and salted, cabbage is pickled into sauerkraut (no more stomach pains), peppers and tomatoes are fire-roasted, and so on.

The only way to get young people to eat more vegetables is to play up their savory side, and make sure they're detoxified, but don't expect to see that from the salt-phobic nutrition experts who worship bland salads.


  1. Can you provide a source for your claim that "the majority of food poisoning cases [notwithstanding baked chicken] come from non-animal foods."

    When I was a kid, I really loved canned spinach. I still do. Just heat it up and season with a tablespoon of vinegar and a pinch of salt.

  2. If you search this blog for food poison, it's the second result after this post.

  3. Unless I miscalculate, it looks like your assertion is supported by data from 2006, but not by data from 2007. Compare at:

    If you add up the illnesses for both years of CDC stats and exclude all chicken-related food poisoning (which seems difficult to justify), plant sources again account for the majority of food-borne illnesses, but not by much. Given the small numbers and large year-to-year fluctuations, I’d be more comfortable drawing conclusions from a longer time-span. Half a decade woudl convince me.

  4. Harmonious Jim9/27/10, 4:35 PM

    From the NYT report: "Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day" says the CDC.

    If "vegetables" excludes fruit, three or more times a day is a lot Who's this 26% who eats veg at breakfast, and lunch, and dinner, and maybe snack too?

    But if "vegetables" includes fruit, then the 26% probably includes many who guzzle fruit juice or fruit snacks.

  5. Canned vegetables are basically salt with a few bits of vegetable added for flavoring. Even for people who don't have any specific medical reasons to limit salt intake, such massive doses of sodium can't be healthy.

    Frozen vegetables are probably a better option.


  6. "Canned vegetables are basically salt with a few bits of vegetable added for flavoring."

    No, even according to the salt-phobic experts who determine what my RDA for sodium is, an entire can of spinach would still only give me 45% of it. An entire can of fire-roasted tomatoes would give me another 30%.

    Given that you're not coming close to that much a day, even by the worry warts you're safe.

  7. Fruit, of course, is designed to be eaten, hence less toxic and more nutritious than vegetables. Tomatoes and chilis are fruits.

    Chili con carn is highly nutritious and very tasty, provided that it is so insanely hot that to eat it a test of machismo.

    Roots are of course normally toxic precisely to keep creatures like ourselves from eating them. Potatoes and yams and so forth have been bred for non toxicity, but the breeding is not 100%.

    Onions and garlic, which are fun vegetables, contain toxins to which we are immune, and which therefore poison all manner of creatures that might cause us harm.

    So if one's vegetable diet is fruits, tomatoes, chilis, onions, and garlic, your criticisms are inapplicable.

  8. James, try to follow along before speaking. All of the discussion of food poisoning so far has focused on pathogens, not the native toxins etc that cause mere discomfort.

    All the wonder-foods you mentioned are highly susceptible to infection. In the supermarket you often see raw berries with gray fuzz spreading in the container -- but don't worry about that because "fruit, of course, is designed to be eaten."

    Don't respond with advice to avoid fuzzy fruit, since that's a lagging indicator of infection.

    Same with those tiny holes you see in raw tomatoes or raw peppers which allow germs in. But again, don't worry about the gray fuzz when you slice open that pepper because it bears seeds and thus my criticisms are inapplicable.

    And all that salmonella in raw tomatoes puts hair on your chest, so never mind that either.

  9. I'm amazed how resistant people are to the fact that food-borne illness is not purely the fault of meat. Any food that comes in contact with the dirt, human hands and the food manufacturing assembly line is equally prone to contamination.

    It's been overstated but is worth repeating. The best approach is to feed vegetables to children the moment they start eating solid food. Obviously you won't give a 14-month-old toddler a bowl of brussel sprouts but even a small bite of some broccoli florets is wise. I was introduced to vegetables very young and I love them unflavored, unsalted...just steamed. I failed miserably in this respect with my own son because the only vegetables he will eat are broccoli and cauliflower, but only if they are cooked to softness and without the stalks.


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