Let them eat Veggies!

If Marie Antoinette were Michelle Obama the declaration “Let them eat Cake!” would have been a bit different.  As the first lady in the US digs up the pristine Whitehouse lawn to make way for a veggie patch, so guerrilla vegetable gardeners are poised to take over New Zealand’s roadside verges, according to last week’s Sunday Star Times.

Improving access to fruits and vegetables is a good thing.  Gardening is a great form of stress relief and is generally pretty healthy if you remember to use adequate protection from the sun.  However I wonder how many practical details people think of when they carte blanche recommend the masses to grow their own.  Are we setting the bar too high?

Despite my own love of gardening and my best intentions, if my family relied on me to provide veggies they would go very hungry indeed.  Not only do I work full time and spend my weekends trying to organise my life while caring for small children, but we live on a relatively small section which would necessitate the purchase of a lot of pots, soil and slug bait in order to set up a proper kitchen garden.  An expensive business, since we don’t all have the Whitehouse lawn at our disposal.  This is not to say we ignore the prospect of growing our own food entirely.  We are lucky enough to have our own delicious table grapes, herbs and tamarillos.  This summer we involved the kids in growing their own tomatoes, which they loved – although despite repeated attempts – they still refuse to eat tomatoes.

This weekend we visited a garden centre and it struck me how costly the process of having a working vegetable garden could be, particularly if you’re starting from scratch.  People who grow most of their fruit and vegetables themselves tell me it is not really any cheaper than buying them, if you buy in season.  They do it for the love of gardening, and the sense of accomplishment it brings.  And I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t also buy some stock produce items that simply aren’t realistic to grow for a decent home supply (eg, frozen peas, kumara, eggplant).

I do not want to bah humbug people’s best intentions, I’m simply pointing out that recommending people grow their own food is not always the most effective strategy for saving money.

In the past decade more than ever we have been telling people what to do to get healthier.  Often it seems that the worried-well are the ones making these suggestions to the masses.  Once again we are setting an ideal standard that many people will find unattainable; and worse, setting the bar too high may put people off ever trying to reach it. After all, there are very few Michelle Obamas in this world.

It is great to offer advice like “grow your own veggies”, but we need to make sure it is simple and achievable.  Perhaps “make the most of any fruit trees you have growing on your property” (particularly when I see so much going to waste) and “grow your own salad greens” is a good start?  At the very least we need to be clear that these are just some ideas that may not work for everyone.

Categories: Food Trends

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