A Bill Of Rights For 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."

So begins a funny faux "letter" sent to Mr. Ball, which is really the gardening magnate's fictional framework for calling attention to the abuses vegetables have suffered at the hands of an uninformed public. The "Bill of Rights" was issued by "a Congress of Vegetables, with each of the four main families -- the podded, the fruited, the leafy and the rooted -- represented." Tubers ("powerful cousins") and stalks ("exotic relatives") were invited as well.

"For too long we have maintained a dignified silence in the face of human neglect, abuse and outright insult bordering on the libelous." Here, then, a portion of the Vegetable Bill of Rights (along with a neat categorization of vegetables):

The Right to Recognition:
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? 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.

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 entrance 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."

The Right to Respect:
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 non-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 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!

The Right to Creativity:
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 entrees 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 these first days of spring, these are the dreams -- and the rights -- of the undersigned:

Bulb Vegetables: Chives. Garlic. Leeks. Onions. Scallions. Shallots. Water Chestnuts.

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

Inflorescent Vegetables: Artichokes, Broccoli, Cauliflower

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

Podded Vegetables: Beans, Peas

Rooted Vegetables: Beets, Burdock, Carrots, Celeriac, Malanga, Parsnips, Radishes, Rutabaga, Salsify, Turnips

Stalk Vegetables: Asparagus, Bamboo, Cardoon, Celery, Chard, Fiddlehead, Fennel, Kohlrabi

Tuberous Vegetables: Cassava, Crosne, Jerusalem artichoke, Taro, Yam

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein