According to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 26% of the adult population eats its vegetables — despite a ten year effort by the federal government to get Americans to eat more of them. Unfortunately, as a nation we still haven’t achieved the modest goals set by public health officials so long ago. In fact, we haven’t even reached the half-way mark.
In related news, NPD Group, a market research firm, concluded there isn’t anything anyone can say to get people to eat their veggies. The group’s “Eating Patterns in America” report says that only 23% of meals in the United States actually include a vegetable, and that’s with stretching the meaning of the word beyond the breaking point. Because putting lettuce on a hamburger qualifies as a vegetable, one has to wonder just what else qualifies. Did the Reagan administration finally get its wish? Do we now consider ketchup a vegetable?
But in fact, the rest of the numbers are so abysmal that it kind of makes a person wish that whole ketchup is a vegetable thing had turned out to be true.
- In 1994, 22% of meals prepared at home included a salad. Today, the number has dropped to 17%.
- The number of entrée salads ordered at restaurants dropped from 10% to 5% in the same amount of time.
Experts have come up with a lot of reasons why people pass on the sugar snap peas and reach for the chips instead. Even though people know that vegetables are good for them, they opt for convenience. Eating healthy, fresh produce requires adjusting schedules. People have to make more frequent trips to the grocery for fresh items. Fresh vegetables are often perceived to be more expensive than over-processed, chemical-laden convenience foods, though research shows otherwise. While a few people might be more willing to incorporate vegetables into their diet, many people are undereducated about the many fast and easy ways to prepare fresh food and lack the confidence to prepare it or make it attractive to children, or haven’t cooked them in so long they don’t know what to do with them once they bring them home.
And vegetables continue to get a bum rap despite producers going to great lengths to make eating them easier. We can buy precut broccoli and other mixed veggies in their own bowls. All we have to do is steam them in the microwave, which, of course, has its own health issues. And since bagged salads are the fastest growing section of your produce section, they are a way to add healthy superstars like romaine and spinach to your meals with minimal inconvenience, albeit a higher risk of bacterial contamination. So the question remains, if convenience is the only issue, why are we still choosing fries and fizzy drinks over ready-to-eat salads and vegetables?
Unfortunately, the problem goes much deeper than simple convenience. We’re a world in love with junk food. I’ve written before about our addiction to high-glycemic foods. The Power Aisle continues to be a staple in stores across much of the developed world because people continue to make sodas, chips, candy, popcorn, and cookies staples of the modern diet.
In its article “Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries,” the New York Times reported on the baby carrot industry’s attempt to make people think of carrots like they think of sugary snacks. The slogan is, “Eat ‘em like junk food.” But that campaign doesn’t seem to be making much headway either. Not as long as people continue to put their taste buds’ pleasure before their own health. In the end, it appears we are not proverbial plow mules to be enticed by “dangling carrots.” Now carrot cake, on the other hand…