I like vegetables. They’re healthful, colorful, abundant and fresh. Cooked al dente, they’re a delicious far cry from the mushy canned and frozen varieties that dominated my Midwestern girlhood.
Still, though nutritious and tasty, vegetables aren’t very memorable. Nor romantic, seductive or sensuous. Can you imagine a romantic evening chomping on cauliflower or sipping carrot juice? Despite their foreign names, Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard aren’t romantic either; nor is spinach, despite its reputation for fortifying Popeye. And they’re not presidential – remember “41” and his aversion to broccoli? Face it: Vegetables are just so … down to earth.
Fruit, on the other hand, is the ambrosia of the gods, the stuff of romance, lovely memories, poetry, film and song.
Take the grape, that poetic muse and most heavenly of earthly delights. Its juice, as wine, is the most romantic beverage in the history of humankind. It even has its own god, Bacchus, and its raucous festival, the Bacchanalia, beats all others. Can you imagine getting so worked up over artichokes or garlic, which also have festivals?
Then there’s the apple, whose influence is biblical. Over the centuries it helped Isaac Newton to discover the law of gravity, William Tell to sharpen his aim and kids to keep the doctor away. And it’s a pillar of old American values: God, motherhood and apple pie.
Though not related, the pineapple calls to mind swaying palm trees, sandy beaches and lapping waves, and it’s sensuous – sweet and juicy; like the mango.
Ah, the mango. I had the unforgettable pleasure of discovering the mango in Mexico, where a vendor in a village square thrust a short stick into the bottom of one, cut the peel just so to easily remove it, and scored the flesh until it became a succulent rose to nibble as I strolled. What veggie could create such a golden memory?
While living in Egypt, I encountered the mango again. This time as juice purchased at ubiquitous kiosks for the equivalent of 10 cents a glass. For that exquisite libation, I abandoned all thought of sanitation.
Then there’s the olive, whose extended branch has been a gesture of peacemaking throughout history. Though I don’t eat olives, I savor the magical memory of sleeping under the stars in an olive grove outside a monastery in the Egyptian desert.
Dipped in bubbly or shrouded in chocolate, the strawberry is a symbol of romance. It’s immortalized in Ingmar Bergman’s movie “Wild Strawberries” and the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
In literature, the abundant seeds of the pomegranate symbolize fertility. Even the lowly plum found its way into a sweet little poem by William Carlos Williams.
Except for raspberries, a sound of disapproval, and lemons, which consumers sometimes find in unrelated purchases, fruits convey positive connotations: “Top bananas” are superior; attractive women were once called “tomatoes”; nice things, “peachy”; the good life, “a bowl of cherries.” Finally, we sing about America’s “fruited plains” and call our accomplishments the “fruits” of our labor.
Jose Andres, arguably America’s “best chef,” opined that fruits and vegetables make for the best eating and urged Americans to shift their eating habits to concentrate on them. We don’t disagree, but please, chef, be sure to make mine fruit!