DISCOVERING BROCCOLI

My family has wacky conversations at the dinner table. This time, I started the discussion.

“I wonder who discovered broccoli,” I said, while watching my fifth-grader gently push the tines of his fork over a modest serving of the green vegetable on his plate. He was making the tender stalks roll over to one side and then to the other next to his cheesesteak sandwich.

“What do you mean?” asked his older brother, who attends middle school. He loves the taste of broccoli, especially smothered in ranch dressing or sprinkled with cheese.

“I mean, who was the first person to take a walk outside, see this green vegetable growing and say to himself, ‘This looks tasty,’ and take a bite?” I answered.

We discuss things like that all the time.

How did someone know that milk was inside a coconut? Who was smart enough to peel an Ugly Fruit? Who dug up the first potato and figured out it was more than a rock?

Students never study the history of food. They get quick lessons about nutrition and food safety. But they never study why oranges grow in Florida and wheat grows in Kansas and potatoes come from Idaho and blueberries thrive in New Jersey.

I’m pretty sure most of the current generation doesn’t know if radishes grow underground or above ground, or if avocados grow on a tree or a vine.

The grocery stores offer almost everything grown in the world, including foods like cactus and ginger root – two things I’m pretty sure are not native to my area. I always wonder if I should try to cook with those ingredients somehow as I reach over them to grab a few ripe tomatoes, which are locally plentiful.

As a society, we’re too busy to realize that what we eat and where it comes from matters.

I don’t know who picked the broccoli on my younger son’s plate, if it was grown in this country, if it has any nutritional value at all after being frozen, shipped and ready to microwave in its packaging.

If I’m rushing to get my children to the baseball fields or a violin lesson by 5:30 p.m. on a school night, my mind doesn’t care where the grocery store found the food. I just want my kids to eat what’s on their plates and get in the car. But that’s a mistake.

“Does broccoli grow on a bush or in a bunch like a head of lettuce?” my son asked, finally stabbing a floweret with his fork and waving it in the air.

“I guess on a plant,” I said.

We could have seen broccoli growing first-hand in our community garden if Big Foot the deer hadn’t decided to eat it for lunch, leaving us with only a few stalk stubs.

My son finally put the piece of broccoli in his mouth and started to chew with a severe frown.

He’d probably like to talk to the guy who discovered broccoli.

“Why did you discover this? It looks weird, tastes awful, and my mom feeds it to me all the time,” I imagine him saying. “Why didn’t you just throw it back on the ground?”

I’m glad we’re participating with other families in our local community garden. I don’t want my sons to be walking down the street one day and have some late night TV talk show host ask them in front of millions of viewers, “Where do onions grow?” And one of my sons answer, “I don’t know. I get mine at the grocery store.”

My children know onions grow in the ground. But after this summer, they will have planted, watered, harvested, washed, sliced and fried their own onions to put on their cheesesteak sandwiches.

And for once, my answer to “Where’d you get that onion” won’t be “at the grocery store.”

–c

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