On the night the original food pyramid was revealed, Vegetables sat in the crowd assuming they would land the coveted bottom block. It was like the Oscars and they were the clear front runner. There was, seemingly, no real competition for “Healthiest Food.”
But then it happened. The new food pyramid was displayed and the bottom block went to Breads and Grains. It was the culinary upset of the 20th century. The Vegetable representatives (lettuce, tomatoes, carrots) sat there in shock as loaves of bread and plates of pasta waddled to the main stage.
By Monday, every school in America had a copy of the new food pyramid hanging in their classrooms. An entire generation would grow up assuming the healthiest part of a broccoli cheddar soup was the bread bowl. Pizza and chicken nuggets weren’t seen as a bad thing.
What’s interesting about that night in 1992, is yes, the bottom block shock was the biggest story, but Vegetables were equally upset about sharing a row with fruit. See, when it comes to food duets, not everything gets along with the unrivaled chemistry of peanut butter and jelly or milk and Oreos. Vegetables have never wanted to be part of a duet. They’re like Kobe Bryant back in 2004 no longer wanting to play with Shaq. If you ever want to piss off a Vegetable just say, “You guys are really pretty much the same as apples and bananas.” Security will be there in 15 seconds to break up the fight.
“We don’t have any sugar,” Vegetables will argue when compared with fruit. “Or nearly as much calories. We literally have nothing wrong with us. We have every vitamin imaginable. Every nutrient imaginable. We fight cancer. Heart disease. Stress. Acne. Seriously, anything that could possibly go wrong with you, we prevent it! And you have us sharing space with a chocolate covered strawberry?!”
Any time a Vegetable starts to gain momentum, we immediately try to reclassify it. There seems to be a policy that if it tastes good, then it can no longer be a veggie. For example, fruits are always trying to claim tomatoes as one of their own. Sweet potatoes and avocados are their newest target. And when potatoes found their stride as French fries, we thought, “Eh, we should probably just throw them in as a bread now, right?”
In order to become a mainstream vegetable, you’ve always had to land a signature dish or attach yourself to a popular meal. Lettuce became a household name by tossing itself onto sandwiches, burgers, and tacos. Tomatoes found their stride in the sauce arena as well as the sandwich/taco move. Broccoli has the broccoli cheddar soup. Onions have the onion ring.
Cucumber became mainstream as a pickle. Cabbage re-branded itself as sauerkraut and rode the coattails of the Reuben sandwich. And every time celery tries to walk into the night club, the bouncer puts his arm out until someone says, “No, it’s cool, he’s here with the buffalo wings.”
The list goes on. Carrots bonded with ranch dressing. Spinach found the vinaigrette. Brussels sprouts, zucchini, and asparagus rose to stardom when people realized, “Hey, these are really good… when covered in butter.”
The four forgotten vegetables throughout history were always kale, eggplant, artichoke, and cauliflower. It took a long time for these ones to make any sort of name for themselves. Artichokes had to team up with spinach to become a powerhouse dip on the appetizer menu. Eggplant gained fame as eggplant parmesan. And kale was like the Kelly Clarkson of the vegetable universe; they went from unknown to superstar. No one back in the early 90’s could have predicted kale’s historic rise to fame.
But cauliflower, known on the streets as “pale broccoli,” was left behind. Cauliflower’s biggest achievement over the last 35 years was being included on a veggie platter. And, unfortunately, they were always the one item that everyone skips. The person who eats the cauliflower at a party is viewed as a hero for “taking one for the team.”
Cauliflower’s sad story appears to finally be changing here in 2019. It’s not front page news, yet, but if you look closely, cauliflower is having a moment.
Here’s how it happened. With the rise of the Keto and Paleo diets, breads and grains have gone from being the foundation of the food pyramid to public enemy number one. People are doing some crazy things to avoid eating carbs. We’re swapping hamburger buns out with sweet potatoes. Chips are being replaced with plantains. We’re wrapping sandwiches in a thing of romaine lettuce and pretending to be happy about it.
Cauliflower watched all of these fruit/vegetable substitutions from the sidelines and thought, “Alright, this is it. This is my moment.” They studied the landscape, tried to figure out where they could best jump in. The idea clicked when cauliflower saw a family of four pulling a frozen pizza out of the oven. “Yes! That’s it!” A week later, there was Oprah promoting a cauliflower pizza crust. And, as we’ve seen time and time again, once you have the Oprah vote, you’ve officially made it.
But cauliflower is not done. They’ve waited far too long in obscurity and are determined not to be a one-hit wonder. Their latest venture is to become deep fried (or air-fried) and then served to gullible kids as “chicken nuggets.” Surprisingly, it’s kind of working. It’s a brilliant overall strategy. If you’re gonna Trojan horse yourself onto a kid’s plate, there are really no better choices than pizza and chicken nuggets. Cauliflower is one Mac-n-Cheese recipe away from being set for a generation. They are no longer the forgotten vegetable.
I’m aiming to have a new Medium Rare post up every Monday until March. Next week will be another post in the “Please, Take this Idea” series, this one is for a revolutionary new product that will change breakfast and brunch forever.
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