Everyone knows that one of the best ways to eat healthier is to eat more vegetables. And yet for decades, American consumers have tended to flock to faddish diets that promised to help them lose weight, lower their cholesterol, help their hearts, etc. that often had unintended consequences. The “low-fat” craze in particular substituted sugar and other simple carbohydrates for fat in all kinds of products, which was likely a factor in the explosion of Type 2 diabetes among the population.
Most recently, the focus has shifted to eating less carbohydrates as well as to reducing or eliminating gluten. While this invariably led food processing companies to come up with hundreds of new products of questionable healthiness, it also appears to be increasing the consumption of vegetables.
More specifically, people are eating more vegetables prepared in a way that mimics their favorite carbohydrates: rice and pasta. For decades, consumption (and production) of cauliflower has been flat or falling. But recently, sales have soared as people are using finely chopped cauliflower as a substitute for rice. And a variety of vegetables including zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash are being cut into noodle-like shapes and cooked like pasta.
Terra Firma subscribers have been “ricing” cauliflower and spiralizing or julienning other vegetables for years, not necessarily as a substitute for anything but just as a fun and interesting way to prepare vegetables. But now the largest vegetable companies in the US are preparing and selling millions of pounds of frozen “cauliflower rice”, “zucchini fettucini” and others. Green Giant told the New York Times that it is harvesting 30 acres of cauliflower a day, over 10,000 acres per year — more than 6 times what they grew just two years ago. They are also selling “riced” broccoli.
Sure, most of these vegetable products are frozen. But let’s face it, there are large parts of the U.S. where good fresh vegetables are a rarity. And there is a huge convenience factor: frozen cauliflower “rice” or zucchini noodles are super easy and fast to prepare.
The rice industry is not happy about this trend, and has filed complaints with the federal government about the use of the term “rice” to describe non-rice products. But I see no downside to the trend of substituting vegetables for grains. Salty snacks made with beets or carrots are not as healthy as minimally processed products like cauliflower “rice” and zucchini noodles. But if you’re going to eat a bag of chips, they probably have more nutritional value than Fritos.
As a potato grower (and lover), I’m not one to bash French Fries — unless they and ketchup are the only vegetables a person eats. I also love sweet potato fries, and have been happy to see them offered in more and more restaurants. But I would also really love to see oven-roasted green beans — a crisp-tender finger food that is both a green vegetable and a legume to boot — served like fries in wax paper envelopes.
I have a not-so-hidden agenda, of course. Maybe more than one. As a vegetable grower, I want to see more people enjoying the crops I grow. I’m tired of the still-prevalent idea that vegetables are something to be endured rather than enjoyed. I want people to finish the vegetables on their plate first, not because it’s the healthy thing to do but because they were the tastiest part of the meal. Even if they come out of the freezer.