Check it out: Think you know vegetables? Think again

By Jan Johnston, Columbian book reviewer


photoJan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at
photo"How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables"By Rebecca Rupp, Storey, 376 pages.


“How Carrots Won the Trojan War:

Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables”

By Rebecca Rupp, Storey, 376 pages.

When you sit down to dinner this evening, what kind of vegetables will you be eating? You are eating your veggies, right? Well, if not, you aren't alone in your decision to skip the green stuff. There will always be vegetable-haters, but would it surprise you to learn that a 21st century distaste for veggies is very different from the intense dislike, even distrust of vegetables that many of our ancestors felt? Yes, it's true -- once upon a time, eating plant-based food was perceived as a foolish and dangerous venture.

Not eating vegetables is a completely foreign concept to me. I love veggies so much that my husband likes to tease me about turning into a rabbit. This is why the title "How Carrots Won the Trojan War" intrigued me enough to check it out from the library. I know that vegetables are awesome, but influencing the course of history? Priceless. Once I started reading, I soon discovered an engaging, selective review of history through the "eyes" of vegetables: roots, stems and all.

In the book's introduction, author Rebecca Rupp gets right to the point (or should I say "to the root") of humans' early misgivings about vegetables. Many 21st century consumers may embrace and celebrate all things garden-grown, but according to Rupp, "For a substantial chunk of human history … a lot of people have turned their noses up at vegetables. In Europe, vegetables [were] unflatteringly dubbed 'rude herbs and roots.'" Fortunately, this aversion to "rude herbs and roots" was not long-lived; in fact, many vegetables have played very interesting roles in the history of mankind.

When compared to eggs, which are a powerhouse in the protein department, beans "pack 34 percent as much protein," and for early explorers such as Lewis and Clark beans were obviously much easier to transport than the nutritious but extremely fragile egg.

Asparagus, the bane of youngsters everywhere, is such a hardy and adaptable plant that NASA scientists claim it would be possible to grow asparagus on Mars. I wonder, would Martian asparagus be green or red?

And what about those carrots and the Trojan war? The things we know about this orange vegetable are many: Bugs Bunny adores them; they're practically a requirement in sack lunches; and carrots and peas go together like, well, peas and carrots. What isn't as well known is that on average a person consumes 12 pounds of carrots each year; Henry Ford, an ardent fan of vegetables, once attended "a twelve-course all-carrot dinner" which included carrot soup and carrot ice cream; and supposedly, within the legendary Trojan Horse, soldiers crunched on carrots ("presumably quietly" muses Rupp) in order to "bind their bowels." Well, enough said about that.

Hoo-boy, what I didn't know about veggies could fill a book. Thankfully that book has been written, which means you and I can regale friends and unsuspecting co-workers with examples of vegetable glory and the many benefits mankind has reaped from planting, growing and harvesting garden bounty. Rude herbs and roots? Squash that notion and jump on the veggie wagon. It does a body good.