Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Little Lesson: Vegetables

This post was once again inspired my a morning video brought to me by TheYoungTurks which just offended the scientist in me

Now of course the Republicans in this case don't actually think that pizza counts as a vegetable and they're just doing it for the money, that's old news and standard Republican behavior 101. This post is not meant to attack the idiocy of such a position as if I thought it was one they actually would have ever come up with or supported if there was no money involved. I bring it up because it was reminiscent of an old fight that I used to have with people in Ireland.

I've mentioned before that I lived in Ireland for five years before moving back to Italy for my PhD. One of the things that struck me most was how badly people ate without thinking twice about it or feeling sick in any way. Admittedly I was pretty spolied, in Italy we have a particularly good diet, but mostly we tend to be a quite delicate people when it comes to food that ravages the liver, so very few Italians would even be capable of eating what the average Irish student eats without feeling sick and having nightmares as a direct result. However the lack of nutritional knowledge of the average Irish person, even Irish biology students, was what struck me in this instance.

I was briefly employed by a marketing agency that had me going door to door to convince people to give to a charity for animals. After hours the whole gang headed over to the pub to grab something to eat before doing our evening round and then heading home. I was on a diet at the time, but I was starving so I began scouring the menu for something that wasn't deep fried in butter to order alongside my tea. I landed on mixed plate of vegetables. That sounds fantastic! I'll have that. What I got was two little pieces of broccoli, a scoop of mached potatoes, some boiled baby potatoes, some fries and a few rings of boiled carrots. I was disappointed but I laughed out loud all the same. Do you realize how fitting this is with the Irish stereotype? I asked. I can't believe that they're advertising a plate of potatoes as vegetables! ahahaha. To which all heads turned at the table. What are you talking about? Potatoes are vegetables! No amount of explanation would convince them otherwise. When I went back to college and told the story to my fellow biology majors, I was met with the same outrage at my suggestion that potatoes are not vegetables. All conversations went something like this:

Me: Potatoes are not vegetables
Irish: Of course they are!
Me: No, they're a starch
Irish: They grow in the ground, they're a vegetable
Me: By that rationale wheat is a vegetable too. It's not. It's a starch, just like corn
Irish: pfft well now I know you're crazy if you think corn isn't even a vegetable you're off you're head goodbye
End of conversation

So now I thought I'd give a little explanation of what is and is not a vegetable

1. Tomatoes: Fruit. Not vegetable. So there goes your entire argument Republicans

After that it gets a little trickier. In this case we are looking at the "food group" definition of a vegetable, not the kind of scientific one. Vegetable is not a scientific word, but loosely it can be defined as an edible plant or part of a plant other than a sweet fruit or seed. However this would include grains, which we all can agree doesn't constitute a vegetable in the "food group" sense.

The food groups are based on the main kinds of compounds that we need as omnivorous animals. These include:

1. Carbohydrates- main source of energy. Foods that are included in this category are rich in carbohydrates, such as grains or cereals potatoes and legumes
2. Protein - needed for building muscle and to assimilate the amino acids that our body cannot make for itself. Included here is of course meat and other animal products. Legumes also contain some of the amino acids that we need to eat, while corn contains the amino acid that legumes lack, so if you're a vegetarian you need to make sure you eat an adeguate amount of both.
3. Fruit and Vegetables- needed for the essential vitamins and many minerals that our bodies need, as well as to facilitate digestion. The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is a scientific one. A fruit is produced by a plant as one of the ways to spread its fertilized seeds. The other parts of the plant that are edible are vegetables.
4. Fats - needed for fatty acids and an extra source of energy

Obivously there is no one food that fits exclusively in any one of these categories. As seen legumes have a foot in "starch" and one in "protein". Meat contains fat and vitamins and minerals that we need to survive. Fuit contains sugar, which is basically a carbohydrate molecule cut up in to pieces. However, the category the food is placed in largely is based on which one it fits best. A steak is mostly protein, so that's where it goes. Lard is an animal product but it's mostly fat, so it goes in the fats group.
So in conclusion, here are the four non-vegetables most commonly confused with vegetables:

1. Tomatoes
2. Potatoes
3. Corn
4. Beans

I know, but they're so delicious! Too bad, you're going to have to eat some real vegetables too!

One last thing about them before I leave this rant. Of the very few veggies I saw eaten when I was in Ireland, all of the were boiled to death, or boiled to death and smothered in cheese. No wonder everyone hated eating their veggies. Boiling them causes all of those vitamins and minerals you need to leech out into the water, so there's no point eating them at all, unless you're just on a diet and are trying to fill your stomach with useless cellulose. If you actually want to eat your vitamins, try making a soup. By boiling and then blending the veggies you're drinking the water that the nutrients leeched in to, so you're getting them in your body all the same.

If you just want to make them delicious, forget the fake cheese. Steam them to keep as much good stuff in as possible, then make them the italian way: get some olive oil, garlic and a little chilli in a pan. Then ripassare in padella: get you're steamed veggies in there and flavor them up in the hot garlicy oil and salt. Very few extra calories added and a much better veggie experience :)

Wow that went on for way too long, but I needed to get that one off my chest!

No comments:

Post a Comment