By Scott Miller
Yesterday was “National Eat More Fruits and Vegetables Day,” which sounds like an order. People don’t like to be told what to do. However, the sentiment is well intentioned.
We’re told to eat fruits and vegetables rather than vegetables and fruits. Fruit is always in front — at the supermarket, on our refrigerator shelves, even alphabetically. Most people prefer fruits to vegetables, and not just because fruit tastes better. Fruit is fun and wacky. Vegetables are serious and sensible. Grapes are the life of the party. Lettuce sits in the corner, complaining about the loud music. Candy is fruit flavored. Mixed drinks are fruit flavored. Tasty treats aren’t vegetable flavored. “Have a Popsicle — it’s cabbage.”
But both fruits and vegetables are ideal foods for compassionate people concerned about the well-being of all sentient beings, as animals don’t suffer for your pomegranates and carrots. In that sense, we could call it National Eat More Fruits and Vegetables and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats Cereal Day. (Mini-Wheats are vegan!) And there are bonus health benefits. Produce is good for you. Most other things are not. Aside from the pork industry and heart attack fetishists, nobody is encouraging you to eat more pigs.
Both fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals and are rich in fiber and antioxidants. Because fruit is higher in sugar and calories than vegetables, nutritionists say that vegetables are better. On the other hand, a tricycle is more fuel efficient than a Porsche. That doesn’t make it the superior vehicle. It’s unlikely that America’s obesity problem is due to fruit consumption. Doctors never tell their patients, “You’re eating too many apples.” Want to get in shape? Less butter, more bananas.
Of course, diet is not just about health. Vegans eat all kinds of food, as long as it doesn’t involve the exploitation of animals. One could also refer to me as a “Pop-Tartan” (but not the frosted kind, made with animal byproducts). The misconception that vegans eat only vegetables has to do with these two words’ sharing the same first three letters: V-E-G. And although we encourage cashiers to try cashews, we also suggest that they eat strawberries and broccoli — and say “have a nice day” less often if they don’t really mean it.
Yeah, vegetables are the poor cousins of fruits. Passion fruit sounds sexy. Dragon fruit sounds mystical. Peas and leeks sound like bodily functions. “Life is not a bowl of cherries” implies that cherries are sweet and enjoyable. Life is not a cluster of artichokes, and thank God for that. Yet vegetables have a fresh, natural flavor. Celery and bell peppers are crisp and pure and unprocessed and feel like they belong in your mouth. Nobody regrets having eaten a side salad.
The same can’t be said for a chili dog. Plus, as a meatless option, vegetables are also entrées: mushroom burgers, cauliflower wings, eggplant meatballs. So give vegetables their due.
But while the battle between fruits and vegetables rages on, we are lacking in both. Only one in 10 adults eats enough greens. Consumption is especially low among younger Americans — not surprising since TikTok isn’t classified as a vegetable. Strategies for increasing our fruit and vegetable intake include expanding local agriculture programs and promoting community gardens.
From a purely scientific standpoint, animals have nervous systems and brains, allowing them to feel pleasure and joy. This same biology explains the fear, frustration, and physical pain they experience when people use them for food. Fruits and vegetables don’t feel pain. When you punch the air, it’s possible that you’re hurting ghosts. Rational thought tells us otherwise. Use your brain. If zucchini welfare is still a concern, however, know that eating produce directly — rather than feeding it to animals killed for their flesh — requires fewer plants and doesn’t hurt animals, who we know feel pain.
Meat, eggs and dairy are environmentally unsustainable, bad for our health, and deadly for animals. We shouldn’t need a special day to remind us what to put in our bodies. Visit a peach orchard. Then go to a slaughterhouse. Stroll through a cornfield on a sunny day. Then walk the dark corridors of a factory farm, rows and rows of hens kept in tiny metal battery cages used as egg-laying machines. It’s enough to make you want to eat more fruits and vegetables.