We’re advised again and again to eat more veggies -- at least 2.5 cups of them each day, preferably much more.
A new report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) finds that American farmers are doing their bit, and have grown 5 percent more veggies in the past year, that, despite the drought, floods and all. But Americans aren’t eating more veggies: the local consumption remained almost flat, and the USDA calculated that Americans eat a daily average of about 1.6 cups. The data here relies on food “disappearance” – the amount of supply divided by the population and adjusted for losses, but studies that rely on people’s self reported consumption produced similar numbers.
There are, however, a few interesting trends in this report that look somewhat encouraging:
We seem to be gradually losing our appetite for potatoes. Potatoes are still a major crop: potatoes and tomatoes make up 62 percent of all US veggie harvests. But in each of the last few years American’s fresh potato intake declined by about 3 percent, and intake of processed potatoes (chips, fries and the like) declined an annual 1 percent. Iceberg lettuce and sweet corn are also trending down. What’s replacing them? Romaine and other lettuces, sweet potatoes and cauliflower; carrots and asparagus are also on the rise, as is artichoke.
And although on average we’re all missing out on our daily quota in a few states people do get more. Adults in Oregon and California eat more vegetables than adults in other states. Perhaps these facts about Oregon and California help explain their higher intake: They have more farmers markets, those markets tend to accept nutrition assistance program benefits (SNAP) and there’s overall greater access to healthier food retailers. Maybe the produce quality in those areas is also better – just my personal feeling – and the food culture is also more plant friendly.
Because accessibly and affordability are only part of the story.
We also need to make veggies desirable, tasty, hip. And it can be done. In Philadelphia, my hometown, the highest Zagat rated restaurant is the vegan Vedge – it’s also one of the toughest tables to book. Yotam Ottolenghi got many Londoners and people all over the world vegetable-excited by his restaurants and books. Recently, Google’s director of Global Food Program announced the company will move towards a plant centric diet, and serve its employees more veggies in its many campuses.
But you don’t need an expensive, expertly crafted vegetable dish to fall in love with veggies. Just-picked sugar snap peas, vibrant carrots and beautiful greens from the garden or the farmers market can do the trick if you give them a chance. We need to try harder.