One thing I can’t recall from childhood is hearing my father say that I couldn’t leave the dinner table until I finished my vegetables. It’s possible that such an exchange happened, at least once or so, on brussels sprouts night. The only such memory I can recall, however, is being told that I couldn’t make my exit from the kitchen and into the family fun room until I finished my plate of tough, seemingly unending pile of mercilessly chewy steak, cut up into little brown cubes. It seems as though my remembered childhood experience will nearly match the experience of kids, in the same circumstance, who are growing up today. Of course, the biggest difference between our experiences will be that kids today won’t be provided the opportunity to finish the green, orange, or red veggies on their plates since they won’t be served any.
At least, this is what I gather from this NY Times article, which reports that there is a (un)healthy lack of vegetables in the American diet. Only about a quarter of Americans eat three or more vegetables per day. We’re simply choosing the chips and fries over the broccoli and cauliflower. This all despite a concerted effort to get Americans to start choosing the former. The federal government set health objectives that sought to increase our vegetable intake. The food industry has made salad ready-to-eat. In all, there’s been two decades of public health initiatives geared toward increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption. It’s been for naught. We just don’t want to veg-out (or in).
How can this be reversed? The article suggests that some ideas being thrown around revolve around further health campaigns that seek to alter our mindset when it comes to eating, such as conceptualizing our dinner plates as healthy only when they are half-full of vegetables. This visual approach is good. It provides a nice rule that’s easy enough to follow. But it’s not enough.
“We have to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said a pediatrician who contributed to the report by the Center for Disease Control from which the Times article was based. I think her sentiment is right. And the only way people will begin to choose the bell peppers over the potato chips will be if prices are rearranged so that vegetables are available at bargain-level prices. The Federal Government would need to stop with just simply setting health objectives. There will need to be a dramatic reversal on the supply side of things. Even if the demand isn’t there. When there’s either carrots, or no carrots, pigs will eat the carrots.
Growing up, I seriously doubt that I always loved the vegetables I was served. But I ate ’em, especially when the alternative to not eating them was pushing away from the table not filled up. It helped me to gain a healthy respect for the veggie, which I’ve retained into adulthood. A respect that has me hoping that this recent aversion-to-vegetables trend is reversed.