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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Broccoli, the Alpha Vegetable

Broccoli is a popular vegetable at our house. I like to have a head of broccoli on hand and I’m always happy during gardening season when I go out and get enough for supper any time I like. Even after harvesting the main head of broccoli, I can always collect a few of the numerous side sprouts that appear over time, sufficient for dinner for two.

I had never thought of broccoli as anything other except a nutritious vegetable that was a staple of my everyday menus. Therefore, I was surprised when last week’s Sunday New York Times had an article promoting broccoli as the “alpha vegetable” ready to take on trendy kale as the winner in the produce-shopping sweepstakes. However, broccoli certainly is a super vegetable when you consider that it is rich in Vitamin A and C and the B vitamins. It is high in protein, low in calories.

Actually, the article was about the New York Times itself working with the ad agency Victors & Spoils to come up with a campaign that would be as effective in getting people to eat more vegetables and fruit, not just broccoli, as are the familiar ads for soft drinks and chips. It gave alarming statistics from 2010 stating that diet had become the number one risk factor for disease and death, overtaking smoking. It also stated that one in three children are on the way to developing diabetes.

The article reported that the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human services, which write the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, found that only five percent of people under 50 are eating the recommended amounts of vegetables. In general, we Americans are eating only half the amount of vegetables and fruits that are recommended for good health.

This is not really news, but statistics, articles and books about the importance of a veggie-rich diet have not inspired grocery shoppers and cooks to change their habits. It is true that we are all busy and don’t have time to think about our dinner menus, and it is also true that advertising greatly affects what we buy at the market. This has been proven many times over when a novel ad campaign results in substantial upticks in food sales.

What to do? Would a really great ad campaign get people eating better and increase our national health? The New York Times and Victors & Spoils were willing to give it a try. Reporter Michael Moss worked with agency staff who spoke to people who didn’t like broccoli and farmers who grow broccoli. They looked at other successful ad campaigns. The result was a campaign that pitted broccoli against kale, the newly trendy vegetable that everyone is talking about and eating. A faux battle certainly worked for Coke and Pepsi when sales increased for both during the great soda war.

They came up with lines like “Eat Fad Free: Broccoli v. Kale” and “Broccoli: Now 43 Percent Less Pretentious Than Kale.” Posters and billboards and other ad venues could be used.

Victors & Spoils designed the campaign but, of course, we are not apt to see it unless farm and agriculture organizations have the money to put it into action. We’ll see.

It was fun to read the article and gain some insight about how ad agencies come up with their ideas, who they talk to, and how they identify issues and consider human psychology. It was fun to see them come up with slogans like “Since When Do Super Foods Have to Be Super Trendy?”

Because November is Thanksgiving month, I’ve been thinking about all the things that I am thankful for. Besides those blessings of wonderful family and good friends, I have to add the joys of living in an area where delicious local produce is available for a good part of the year.

Since we moved to Heath at the end of 1979, there has been an increasing interest in the state of our environment and in the state of our health. Out of these increasing concerns we have seen a number of small new, sustainably run farms dotting the landscape. We have seen a rise in the number of farm stands around the county and the institution of farmers markets that offer vegetables, fruit and seedlings for home gardens, as well as great bread and other agricultural products, even in midwinter. We have seen the Community Development Corporation’s incubator kitchens lead to a number of locally grown and locally processed food businesses like Real Pickles, Katalyst Kombucha and Green River Ambrosia.

With the rise of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, we have seen consumers who recognize that farming is a risky business and are willing to share that risk while benefiting from the availability of good produce and the knowledge that those farmers are also benefiting our environment with their sustainable methods.

In 1993, CISA (Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture) was founded to help farmers by providing business training as well as agricultural information, to promote farms and local foods and support the local economy by keeping more food dollars in our community. They are working to make fresh healthy food accessible and thus make us a healthier community. Many of us are thrilled to be able to buy Local Hero produce.

We will celebrate Thanksgiving with a groaning board of mouth-watering dishes, including broccoli at our house. I celebrate and thank the farmers of the county every time I go to the market.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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