Considering the fact that making lists is one of my favorite procrastination activities and that I look forward all year to the NY Times Magazine Annual Year in Ideas issue, it is something of a bizzarity that I haven't ever posted a Weird Vegetables year in review. I can only attribute it to lack of ambition and an aversion to making authoritative pronouncements (i.e. "2009 was the year of the squash. Most certainly. Indubitably.") But since I'm stuck in a cabin in Lake Tahoe with nothing better to do besides read Sherlock Holmes stories and howl at the moon while my family eats broccoli and iceberg lettuce, I thought I'd compile a list of notable vegetable moments from the year.
1. Michelle Obama's White House vegetable garden...
...sent the press into shock and awe back at the start of spring (ah, remember pea shoots and artichokes?) and since then, many others have been planting their own edible gardens. Michelle's green thumb must have left its imprint on the Queen of England, who installed a vegetable patch just three months after that infamous "hug," which was more of a hand pat on the back really.
As of the fall harvest, the White House garden team has plucked 1007 pounds of vegetables from their fertile plot (yes, the 7 makes it an auspicious and more random, hence real-seeming, figure). The winter garden is being done up in hoop houses that will keep the carrots, spinach, chard, lettuce, and mustard greens nice 'n' cozy, according to the White House blog. The only complaint I have to file is: Where's the kale?! Photo lifted from here.
2. Acceptance of weird vegetables (and fruit) into the EU
In a victory for weirdly wonderful produce everywhere, legislation repealing the EU's twenty-year ban on certain twisted, dwarfish, wonky, and otherwise "malformed" (how dare they!) vegetables and fruit went into effect this past July. The previous regulations had set standards for "normal" produce, dictating such silly rules as cucumbers must be "practically straight" (No queers! And that means you, Armenians and serpentines). Not only was the sale of these abnormal-looking specimens banned, but they were also prevented from being donated to soup kitchens or food banks, leading to the tossing out of 20% of the British harvest according to the Daily Telegraph.
Anyone who pays the least attention to cooking and eating knows that while freshness matters, looks don't necessarily correlate to taste and nutrition, and that twisty carrots can taste just as good as straight ones, if not better. Think of the pomelo, which reaches its sweetest only after it begins to deflate, and pomegranates that signal their juicy ripeness by cracking all over, thus marring their smooth exteriors. Unfortunately, some harvests are still beholden to these arbitrary standards, such as the non-bendy banana, which must be "the thickness of a transverse section of the fruit between the lateral faces," while "the middle, perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, must be at a minimum of 27mm (1.06ins)." My appetite ends when choosing produce becomes a mathematical word problem.
Read more about it from Nicola Twilley at Edible Geography (my newest food writer heartthrob!) and at the Times of London. Thanks to our occasional Internet mole Leafy Heirloom for dropping these links into the secret underground WV drop box before shuffling back to his tunneling.
3. Young woman diagnosed with lachanophobia...
...which means "fear of vegetables," originating in the Greek root "lachano," or "vegetable" ("lachanopolist" means greengrocer, the Oxford English Dictionary tells me).
In November, the Daily Telegraph reported that one Vicki Larrieux, 22, of Portsmouth, England, suffers from "panic attacks at the merest sight of a sprout or a pea." Her boyfriend is kind enough to help out with the grocery shopping, which is dangerous territory for Larrieux: "It is a bit of an ordeal to go to the supermarket because the veg is usually right by the door." Perhaps reading back issues of the Telegraph can give her some ideas on how to cure this truly tragic phobia. It was hypnotherapy that helped Krissie Palmer-Howarth, 61, a cabaret singer from Newhaven, East Sussex, overcome her lachanophobia back in 2006. Expect another variation on this theme in 2012, when the Telegraph again needs space filler and figures everyone's forgotten all about lachanophobia. Scary Alien vegetable creature found here.
4. The New England Tomato Blight
While traipsing around bucolic New England during my cool, wet, American summer, I became aware of the plight of organic tomato farmers there, whose crops were suffering from the blight, a merciless fungus whose rotten spores love the rain and travel the winds, reaching distances of ten miles in one day. It is the same disease that caused the Irish potato famine in 1845 (or the Great Famine), which brought so many shamrocked immigrants to this side of the world in search of healthy produce, among other things. This summer's outbreak was thought to be spread especially by blighted tomato plants sold to backyard farmers at big box stores (beware the wares of Wal-Mart).
So while we in California were basking in late summer and fall rubied heirloom tomatoes, our comrades to the east had to make due with the remaining fungicide-sprayed tomatoes and assorted substitute nightshades. Interestingly, it was community supported agriculture subscriptions (CSA boxes) that saved some organic farms from taking big income losses, since their customers had already bought into the harvest and accepted alternate produce. Huzzah! The above photo of Lindentree Farm of Lincoln, Massachusetts comes from the Boston Globe, which has more on the story.
5. "Junk" the Eggplant, a Canadian Idol is born
While tomatoes were decaying in the U.S. northeast, Canadian WV readers Paul and Carmen proved the agricultural pooh-poohers and garden plot naysayers to be FOOLS when they brought a velvet eggplant plant to successful fruition in Vancouver's cold and foggy climate this past August. Paul writes, "I hope these photos bring a laugh and inspire fellow gardeners to keep on digging." They sent in several photos of the eggplant they nicknamed "Junk," including the one above of their prized pet nestled lovingly in the crotch of an unidentified admirer.
Despite the connotations of his name, which stunted the early development of his self-esteem by making him feel the very opposite of precious and that he was interesting only in the cheapest of ways, Junk eventually made his way on the hardscrabble streets of Vancouver. A talent scout spotted his charisma, got him blingee'd out, and he's been on the upswing ever since, winning the hearts of Canadians from Toronto to Nova Scotia with his magnetic dance moves and sustainable lyrics. His fall Organic Hip-Hop Rainbow Funk Fest tour sold out in a matter of minutes, and he has plans to follow up his solo album Another Shade of Purple with a collaboration with American Idol's dreamy & dreadlocked runner up Jason Castro. All our congratulations go out to Paul, Carmen, and their Lil' Junk.
Happy New Year! And remember this in 2010: Eat vegetables. Weird ones. Lots of them.