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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sararah said...

My score was 5.4! I am usually really good on the weekends...but uh, Saturdays? Yeah sometimes those are baaad ;)

Little Black Car said...

1. Rarely.
2. Daily.
3. Daily, or nearly so. (Sometimes I eat steamed green vegetables instead.)
4. Not that often (my other family member is diabetic and avoids them, although she loves them, so I don't eat them in front of her.)
5. Almost daily. I love raw carrots.
6. I think of it as 2-3 (lunch, dinner, snack if I don't eat fruit for a snack instead), but since a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts says it's four servings, when in our house it's more like two scant servings, I'm not sure how many I eat in terms of "official" servings by volume. More than 2-3, certainly.

Marcia said...

I eat 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetable a day. I would put my average at about 7.

Anonymous said...

Is this supposed to be an authoritative report or propaganda intended to support the first lady or other agendized interests? There have been major studies in the past to evaluate the supposed health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables on health, death, and specific diseases thought to benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables. The result was no difference between the control group and the fruits and vegetables group. Almost everyone agrees that eating a diverse diet and not choosing to get caught up in fad diets is the best choice for your body and health. But there is no evidence to support the notion that there is some magical daily serving of fruits and vegetables that will make you healthy. Furthermore there is no agreement on what that "magical" number is. This all boils down to mumble jumbo and superstition where real science is ignored in favor of new age beliefs.

Claire said...

Why don't carrots count as vegetable? I mean, I know they're root veggies and have some sugar, but really?

Anonymous said...

If so few people eat fruits and vegetables what is everyone eating? Bread and meat all day? Doesn't that feel wrong to them? Just the thought of a whole day eating only meat and starch makes me queasy.

Jenna said...

I'll be honest, I never really have a great grasp on how many servings of fruit and veggies a day I'm getting. Unless I'm eating it raw and out of hand (often) does a large salad for lunch count as one serving... or do I list each veggies? Does the stirfry I made (predominantly veggies) count as a single serving of the biggest player and maybe another serving adding all the little bits and pieces together? And since I tend to snack all day on random things snagged out of the crisper in the winter and munch my way through gardening in the summer... when do I call it a serving? Toss in juice, smoothies, and glugs of juice in my oatmeal instead of water (mmmmmm yummy. Apple cider steeped steel cut oats. Heaven in the morning.) and nailing down a number just isn't in the cards.

I think I'm going to concentrate on getting more variety and learning new ways to tuck the goodies in (as well as tuck INTO the goodies) than worry about my number.

But while I might not be a great source of data for consumption quantities in my household... you guys keep on being a great source of data on how to go about eating cheap, healthy, and good. And ummm, don't worry about the folks who see paranoia and propaganda behind every lettuce leaf.

Diane said...

1. never - or so rarely as to be never.
2. probably one serving daily - I don't eat much fruit.
3. rarely - maybe once a week.
4. rarely - maybe 3x a week
5. 1-2x a week.
6. At least 4x a day, usually 5 to 6x/day, even for breakfast (2 at almost every meal). I eat huge amounts of vegies - and cook a lot of Indian vegetarian cuisine. I eat tons of chinese broccoli, bitter melon, bok choy, choy sum, kang kong, tomatoes, eggplants, snap peas, kale, chard, spinach, peppers, sweet potatoes, etc etc etc.

I'm not even sure how to compute servings for what I eat, as it is very non-normative. I mean, who eats sweet potato curry for breakfast? Or left over spinach dal in a sandwich for breakfast?

food4five said...

Great post!

This particular report was so astounding to me, that I found a need to write about it (

I really like your quiz. So, here's my response:

1. 1/week.
2. Two or three times a day.
3. Almost every day.
4. Once every other week or so.
5. Once every other week or so.
6. Probably 3-4, lunch, snack, two servings of veggies at dinner (plus snack)

But what I eat, and what my kids eat, is not the same. Two of the three eat lots and lots of fruit. The third prefers veggies. Providing enough options is always something we have to consider.

mollyjade said...

I think juice, potatoes, carrots, and salad are separated out because those are the fruits and veggies most often consumed by Americans. Perhaps they can get a more accurate picture of how much produce we're getting if they track these separately from everything else.

Daniel said...

I found that Times article to be both sensationalist and somewhat defeatist in how it seemed to encourage readers to give their power away to the food industry, rather than take action on their own behalf. After all, what can a mere American possibly do against a delicious, "flavor-blasted" Dorito sold to you by an all-powerful food industry? (I'm paraphrasing from the money quotes in the Times article).

I guess if it gets us to chatter about eating vegetables, some of us will eat more vegetables, which is a good thing. But what's with framing up everything as if there's some food cabal controlling what we choose to eat?

Casual Kitchen

Anonymous said...

I think there are two major problems with this report:

1) Self-reporting. People are notoriously inaccurate when reporting on their own behavior.

2) The question was "how many times", which begs the question: "How do we convert 'times' to 'servings' per the Healthy People 2010 targets?"

My lunch is usually 70% fruits and veg. I eat carrots daily. I eat fruit daily. But I just bought some giant HoneyCrisp apples that are likely 3+ servings apiece. The next batch were quite small, and likely only 1 serving apiece. My family of 4 (kids are 2 and 5) will go through 2 pounds of asparagus or brussels sprouts in a dinner.

Self-reporting might as well be non-reporting wrt actionable data...

Christina said...

1. Never on my own. So less than once a month for most of the year.
2. I eat a piece of fruit every day--usually bananas, sometimes apples, nectarines, kiwis. I try to work in berries too.
3. Cooking for one makes buying salad ingredients somewhat inconvenient (because I refuse to buy pre-packaged salads since they're a waste of plastic, etc). Once or twice a month, maybe.
4. I eat potatoes at least once or twice a month.
5. Not a big fan of carrots. Maybe once a month.
6. I usually eat at least two servings of vegetables a day. I try to load my dinners with mostly vegetables and protein. A common meal for me is linguini with homemade tomato sauce, onions, garlic, and heaps and heaps of kale. (Sometimes carrots...) I tend to not eat big lunches since I have class and hate bringing Tupperware, somehow. Usually end up grabbing a big piece of starch and a cuppa. :\

70% of my motivation for eating vegetables is being healthy enough to completely avoid getting leg cramps, haha. I had an awful bout of that when I was 17-18 and that was recent enough for me to still be horrified. Otherwise I'm a vegetarian and I like to be aware and appreciative of what I'm eating.

Anna said...

1. Almost never.
2. 2-3 times a day
3. Minimum twice a week. Sometimes nearly every day.
4. A few times a month
5. Almost daily, because it's a quick, easy way of getting veggies.
6. Per week? 4-5 times.