“We, The Vegetables. . .”

This story begins earlier this year, just as the very first crocuses peeped from the frosted ground. One cold bright morning, George Ball, the Proprietor of W. Atlee Burpee, the gardening company, discovered a curious-looking green envelope in his mailbox. He noticed the pages gave off a distinct bouquet: verdant, earthy and curiously intoxicating. The letter read:

Salutations, Mister Ball,

Over the years you have proved yourself a steadfast friend of the vegetable community. So it is to you we turn to help broadcast our important new declaration to the community of humans.

Recently, we convened a Congress Of Vegetables, with each of the four main families— the podded , the fruited, the leafy and the rooted—represented. We invited our powerful tuberous cousins, as well as our rare and exotic relatives, the stalks. As you can imagine, Mister Ball, we are a large and colorful clan, greatly varied in size, shape, flavor and texture.

You might observe, Mister Ball, we have been inspired by the American Constitution. Thomas Jefferson was, after all, an avid cultivator of vegetables, as were many of his cosigners. They found inspiration in vegetables—and they likewise inspire us.

It is our duty and our privilege to once and for all declare our Bill Of Rights as vegetables. For too long we have maintained a dignified silence in the face of human neglect, abuse and outright insult bordering on the libelous.

For 10,000 years we have nourished ungrateful people with uncountable harvests of delectable, nutritious food. Humankind must now grant vegetables the respect, consideration and care we merit.

For far too long humans have relegated us to the side dishes of life. In the theatre of cuisine, vegetables serve as supporting players with mere walk-on roles, rather than the culinary stars we surely are.

The Congress of Vegetables hereby claims our God-given rights, and demands that people at last respect us for not only our nutritional value, flavor and texture, but also our distinctive personalities and panoply of colors and shapes.

Our human friends must acknowledge the indispensible role vegetables have played in their history and survival. Consider this: were it not for annual vegetables, people would not exist. Chew on that!


Humans have an unhappy propensity for viewing vegetables as mere things, commonplace objects on offer in the produce department.

In the pantheon of human culture, we make a poor showing indeed. Where are the monuments, museums, poems, novels, films and symphonies inspired by vegetables?

Your Proust wrote several long, elaborate novels inspired by the bite of a madeleine—a cookie. Imagine how much greater his opus would be if he had dined on an artfully prepared eggplant.

What if, in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the Prince’s soliloquy was addressed to an artichoke? Why not? Is the fear the artichoke would eat up the scenery? Or that Hamlet would eat up the artichoke?

In your entertainments, humans anthropomorphize—imbue with human traits—every kind of thing or creature. In ancient fables and today’s cartoons, humans take on the guise of all manner of creature—woodpeckers, rabbits, rodents, cats, spiders, elephants, dogs, chipmunks and sponges—all, evidently, plausible vehicles for human expression.

The names of your venerated sports teams are inspired by giants, birds, brigands, snakes, metals, jungle creatures, warriors and meat-packers. In vain we look for the California Cauliflowers, Tucson Turnips or New York Yams. Cruelly, inexplicably, you refuse vegetables entrée to the garden of the human imagination.

Your diminution of vegetables diminishes all of us. So build temples to vegetables. Enshrine the role of vegetables in heroic legend. May a conqueror have the dignity to confess, “Were it not for vegetables, defeat would have been inevitable.”


In so-called industrial western societies, vegetables play an ever-smaller role in people’s diet. Adults and children consume a fraction of the vegetables their bodies demand—a development with significant health and economic consequences.

Food manufacturers and restaurant chains apply considerable expense and ingenuity convincing the public to eat un-nutritious fat-laden products unworthy of the designation “food.”

Can it be difficult to convince the public of the appeal of us vegetables—which benefit your waistline, improve your appearance, enhance your well-being and prolong your life?

In the widespread agonizing over America’s obesity crisis, rarely mentioned is the problem’s antidote: Eat More Vegetables.

In the endless bickering over health insurance, did a legislator stand up in Congress to wax eloquent on wax beans and their vegetable cousins? Not that we remember. Looking for highly affordable health insurance? Remember this: “V for Vegetables!”


Helping bring about vegetables’ wretched showing in the human imagination and daily diet is the way we are prepared.

In fact you humans don’t prepare vegetables, so much as abandon us to a merciless pot of boiling water or the brutality of the broiler. Our adieu is swift and unsentimental. Thanks to culinary creative destruction, you sacrifice our luscious color, sensuous texture, voluptuous flavor and spectrum of succulent sensations. Still worse, your children come to regard vegetables as flavorless, lifeless things.

Today, it is true, vegetables enjoy a new vogue in culinary circles. At chic and expensive restaurants, we are transitioning from side dishes to entrées created with nuance and artistry.

Perhaps, for once, vegetables are escaping the stigma of being a duty, the anti-charisma bestowed on all things “good for you.” For once—for once!—we are being regarded as sensual, pleasurable and worthy of temptation. “To the ramparts!”

On this first day of spring, these are the dreams—and the rights—of the undersigned: a vegetable patch in every home, schoolyard and community garden.



Chives, Garlic, Leeks, Onions, Scallions, Shallots, Water Chestnuts


Avocados, Chayote, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Melons, Okra, Olives, Peppers, Squash, Tomatoes, Tomatillos


Artichokes, Broccoli, Cauliflower


Arugula, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Chicory, Chinese cabbage, Collards, Cress, Dandelion nettles, Endive, Lamb’s lettuce, Lettuce, Nasturtium, Purslane, Radicchio, Savoy, Sea kale, Sorrel, Spinach


Beans, Peas


Beets, Burdock, Carrots, Celeriac, Malanga, Parsnips, Radishes, Rutabaga, Salsify, Turnips


Asparagus, Bamboo, Cardoon, Celery, Chard, Fiddlehead, Fennel, Kohlrabi


Cassava, Crosne, Jerusalem artichoke, Jicama, Potato, Sweet potato, Taro, Yam

This entry was posted on Friday, March 18th, 2011 at 2:08 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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20 Responses to ““We, The Vegetables. . .””

  1. Nikki said:

    My dearest Brussel Sprouts,

    As a child, running away from home was preferable to eating boiled carrots, so your reference to unimaginative preparation touched a long dormant memory. Jung postulated that our character is not fully formed until our 80’s, so I confess with sadness that vegetables as food have not played the premier role in my life until recently. You, my dear BS friends, have shown me the way and have become my first choice among all vegetables. Not tossed in a pot and left to boil. NO! Rather, briefly marinated in select extra virgin olive oil, accompanied by pink sea salt and coarse-ground pepper and slowly roasted at low temperature with care. Simple, sweet and savory, in short a delight. So do not dispair. Although some of us do not meet our vegetable friends until adulthood, a good friend brings enjoyment for life. I think I’ll knock on the door of beets next. I’m sending your manifesto to all my vegan friends, who will surely appreciate your call for equality.

    • George said:

      Wow, Nikki, this is mind blowing. Thank you very much and by all means, please post again. Especially any more Jungian stuff. Wonderful!

  2. Marian Kuenzig said:

    How about corn?

    • George said:

      Thanks for pointing out that sweet corn, a tropical grass, is indeed a vegetable. Sorry!

  3. Chanda said:

    George! I love this! I am going to print it out to send to Emma’s school. I’ve been reading the blog for a while, enjoying it very much.

    • George said:

      Thank you very much, Chanda. Hope all is well. Maybe I shall see you at one of our Heronswood Opens in Kingston (May 14, June 26, July 16, September 10). Tell me how the school liked my little folk tale. Thanks again.

  4. Marshall Smyth said:

    I totally love this!

    • George said:

      Thanks, Marshall.

  5. Hear, hear, let’s hear it for vegetables, some of my favorite foods. Yes, indeed they can be a full meal – appetizer, entree, dessert! Not to mention their beautiful forms. I think more and more people are beginning to realize this. Thanks for these interesting blogs, Heronswood!

    • George said:

      You are welcome, Sharon, and thanks for your lovely image of a full vegetable meal. The last decent one I had was in southern Taiwan. The main course was Lufa sprouts, blanched and sautéed. Unforgettable! Please post again.

  6. C. Paul Bailey said:

    Another great tale, but is corn not a vegetable?

    • George said:

      Thanks, C. Paul, for pointing out my serious omission. Sweet corn is certainly a vegetable. However, since I was “channeling” the vegetable kingdom, I skipped a transmission. Call it a “human computer” error. Thanks again.

  7. dianedigsplants said:

    Ah! Kohlrabi! May its countenance grace the new dollar bill along with the words, “In Veggies We Lust.”

    • George said:

      Very nice, Diane. “What foods these morsels be.” Please post again.

  8. Noel Valdes said:

    Hi George. Geoff forwarded Heronswood to me and I like it. As I admitted at the Philadelphia show, I had not been reading it. Your posts are quite interesting and I thank you for the recent very kind words about CobraHead.

    I’ve been a vegetable grower for most of my life. For a time I was actually disdainful of the interest by most gardeners for ornamentals over veggies. My thinking was, “if you can’t eat it why grow it?”. Now I’ve come to respect and admire the gardeners and horticulturalists who can produce artistic beauty with plants, but I still feel that our ability to grow our own food is really what sets humans apart from the other animals. We have been remiss in handing over food production to the corporate farms. In an optimistic future, food growing on a small, local scale will be the most beneficial and healing activity people can engage in to reclaim what we have lost. We truly have to get to get back to the garden.

    I’ve grown every vegetable on your list except water chestnuts, avocados, chayote, sea kale, bamboo, cardoon, cassava, crosne, jicama, taro, and yam. I’d grow these, too, except most just would not tolerate Wisconsin weather. Growing food is not difficult, and the food you grow yourself is almost always the best food there is.

    • George said:

      Thank you, Noel, for the kind and thoughtful compliment. Flowers relieve the spirits and generally bring a smile to peoples’ faces. As for animals, they may not grow plants, but they do have the ability to “tend” them in the sense that they know how to forage and graze. But your point is well taken: the more we garden, the more we become civilized and even humane. That is why I am in the garden seed business. Thanks again.

  9. laura perkins said:

    this is wonderful! thank you so much for sharing! definitely worthy of forwarding on!

    • George said:

      I am very glad you enjoyed it. Please forward on to your heart’s content. I need all the help I can get with my little blog. Thanks very much.

  10. Iris Bird said:

    AGASTACHE” Summer Glow PPAF SKU # 20218A
    In the near future, as soon as our rains stop in the comming week or two.
    Great Nursery.
    Iris Bird.
    Walnut CA. 91789.

    • George said:

      Dear Iris,

      Thank you for your kind compliment. I am so very sorry I am so late in responding. Please forgive me. Too busy to think! Your rains have probably stopped. I hope so. You have a great climate for growing a wide range of plants. Tricky rains, though.

      Thanks again for posting.

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