Greens and Prejudice

Greens and Prejudice

Michael Ruhlman had an interesting post last week about white meat and Jesus (Whiteliness is Next to Godliness), and the comment discussion in particular got me thinking about greens. I eat a lot of greens, largely because I have a garden and they grow really well here — but I’m a latecomer to cooked greens. We didn’t eat greens growing up because, well, “nice people” didn’t eat greens. Poor people ate greens. Black people at greens. We were upper class (even if we were broke most of the time) and we ate white food — chicken, fish, potatoes, pasta, salad — if we ate cooked vegetables they were the standbys: broccoli, zucchini, green beans. The closest we came to greens was frozen spinach, usually added to the turkey soup my mother kept us alive on for several really broke years. As a result, my Dear Brother hated cooked greens until the very end. “Wet leaves,” he called them. “Slimy.”

And yet, we’re now being told by people like Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Actually, Pollan gets more specific about plants — it’s leaves we should be eating more of, we eat mostly seeds and fruits. Turns out, it’s the leaves that store a lot of things we thought we didn’t need, like omega-3 fatty acids etc. I have to admit, that while I eat a lot of greens, it’s not because of health concerns. I don’t really believe in worrying too much about food and health

I follow the Julia Child rules: Don’t eat fake food. Don’t snack. Eat real meals in moderation, preferably with other people. It worked for her (and to be fair, in my family it’s not cholesterol or food-based diseases that kill people — with our genes, if you can stay out of the bottle you seem to live to be very very old). I don’t eat greens because they’re good for me, or because they’re cheap, or even because I can grow a lot of them in my garden. I eat greens because I really love them.And what I love about them is what a lot of people don’t. I love bitter greens — broccoli rabe and gai lan and chicories and endives. I like kale and chard and beet greens. I’d rather have a nice plate of sauteed greens with garlic and lemon zest and olive oil than a boring old hunk of broccoli any day. And I don’t like salad — my brief sojourn in Asia in my twenties (where they use night soil for fertilizer, and hence, all veggies must be washed and cooked) combined with my sense that salad, particularly in the winter is just too cold has me passing up the lettuces in the grocery aisle. I like cooked greens and I eat a lot of them, but they’re still, like dark meat, somehow out of the mainstream.

And it kind of puzzles me. They are a little mysterious. It took me a while to figure out how to cook them — I had to scout around in Italian and Greek cookbooks, but it wasn’t hard to figure out. Is it because they come with dirt on them? That unlike those bags of pre-washed, pre-cut (pre-infected?) baby spinach leaves, bunches of greens have to be touched? You’ve got to cut off the bottoms, and sometimes wash them in two or three sinkfuls of water. They need to be cooked, not just shopped for — is that the problem? Or is it that cooked greens still carry the taint of poverty, and race, and weird immigrant grandparents eating weird immigrant food?

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