Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why are carrots weird?

In their adult form, I mean. I grew up in a time before baby carrots were invented, so I could claim that as a kid I ran around with with a quiver of hardy orange roots on my back, fronds flailing behind me. But that's not true. I ate plenty of ants on a log, and once ordered cauliflower at a restaurant simply because I liked the the sound of it, but my younger self was a pretty typical, Cookie-Crisp-craving child of the '80s.

These days, on my farmers' market trips, I indulge my vegetable warrior fantasy: I buy a bunch of carrots (or fennel or turnips or beets) and stick them–tops on–into my shoulder bag to parade back home with greenery on display. And I usually manage to use the carrot tops (and beet greens and fennel fronds) when I cook–they're a grassy-sweet contributor to vegetable stock, for one.

But I'm straying from my original point. Why don't people eat whole carrots anymore? Is it because, as Michael Pollan aptly described, we prefer seeing them as "machine-lathed orange bullets"? As sanitized, dirtless incarnations of root vegetables? I'm not trying to be melodramatic--I honestly wonder why we're doing the same thing to carrots we do to our meat products: divorcing them from their (in this case, relatively inoffensive) source. One of my favorite moments in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was a story she relayed about her brother, working in his garden when a neighborhood kid stopped by and observed carrots being pulled from the ground. The kid asked "How'd you get those in there?" After explaining that carrots are plants, or really roots of plants, and that they live and grow in the dirt before we pick them and eat them, the man asked his neighbor to name any other food he could think of that might be a root. The kid thought hard, consulted his friends, and ultimately responded: "Um, spaghetti?"

I've also heard that Weight Watchers warns dieters about the high sugar content of carrots, which makes me wonder if anyone in the history of the world has blamed their weight gain on overconsumption of any raw vegetable. In my experience, they're too fibrous to overconsume, and your hands will turn orangey long before you become obese, but maybe the baby versions enable carrot binges. Aside from the fact that they're an energy and time wasting, re-packaged version of a naturally occurring, perfectly suitable serving size of vegetables, baby carrots tend to taste like either pesticide or nothing at all.

So I buy them whole, rinse off the dirt, and eat them, self-righteously, one spear at a time: I dip them in hummus, tahini, or peanut butter, shave long ribbons into green salads, or slice them on the diagonal and eat the resulting oblong chips with salsa (0 points, WW!). Heirloom Organics has been selling crazily beautiful white and purple varieties at the Ferry Building recently, and oven-roasted carrots with mint may make an appearance at this year's family Christmas (see Megan's inquiry in comments below).

1 comment:

Christine said...

hi eek! meg clued me in to your lovely blog and it immediately earned a coveted icon-button on my toolbar of food blogs. i love it!

the baby ones certainly enable binges in me... particularly when they are matched with hummus or peanut butter. (yes, i love carrots with PB.. began back in college, when the celery looked crappy and i wanted ants-on-logs)

speaking of which, my palms are indeed orangey.

unusual tangent: last week i had a patient in the ER who, um, obstructed himself with eating too many carrots and had to have surgery to relieve it. though this is more an example to warn against underconsumption of soluble fiber and water, than overconsumption of carrots.