Desperately Seeking Veggies


Last week the American host of a French exchange student told me that her visitor had been wowed by Madison (WI)’s famous farmers market around the State Capitol (featured in the photo at right). Faced with the produce, the student exclaimed, “What a surprise! I heard from everyone in France that I wouldn't see a single vegetable during my stay in the US!” 

Could just be a high school student’s weird idea, I suppose. But no, an acquaintance from Switzerland wrote me several weeks ago that she was having a great time in the U.S. on holiday, only she “couldn’t find any vegetables.”

Just where are the vegetables?  Could it be that no one is buying the farmers market produce? Maybe only fancy people?  Or vegetarians?  Perhaps old fashioned or unsophisticated people aren’t eating or serving vegetables? 

Is there an actual dearth of vegetables in the U.S., or is this just a conclusion drawn from the higher incidence of obesity? Or perhaps my Swiss friend was looking for vegetables at fast food restaurants?

In search of the absence of vegetables, I went with my family to a “supper club” out in the middle of the country last weekend.  In case you do not know what a supper club is, don’t worry, I looked it up on Wikipedia.  I had to look it up because even though I have been to many supper clubs in my life, I have no idea what their defining features are. 

Here is what Wikipedia says:

“In the U.S., a supper club is a dining establishment generally found in the Upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, and Iowa. These establishments typically are located on the edge of town in rural areas. They were traditionally thought of as a ‘destination’ where patrons would go to spend the whole evening, from cocktail hour to enjoying night club style entertainment after dinner. They feature a casual and relaxed atmosphere.”

At the very least, you can glean from this description the fact that supper clubs are not sophisticated establishments. They are, as mentioned, traditional American-Northern-Midwest locales.

The supper club I went to last weekend is called “the Summit.” At the Summit there are two main things that rely on vegetables. One is the nightly homemade soup.  The soups vary from clam chowder to Minestrone to broccoli. On the night we were there, the soup was Tuscan-white-bean-and-vegetable soup. After enjoying a cup of soup, you typically make your way to the salad bar. The salad bar features many things that do not count as vegetables such as pasta salads with monumental amounts of mayonnaise and, often, low grade yellow cheese. But at the Summit there were also bowls of beets, carrots, lettuces, cucumbers, onions, and peppers. Those all count as vegetables, and I ate many of them.

Another standard eating venue in the Upper Midwest is the “Steak House.”  These are dark and, formerly, smoky places that tend to serve good martinis.  The one I went to last night is fittingly called “Smoky’s.” I ordered the “Surf and Turf” main dish, which in this case was an excellent fillet of beef and less excellent shrimp.  But the twin entrée did not arrive before the ubiquitous (to Steak Houses) green salad and “your-choice-of-tomato-juice-or-soup.”  The soup offering was split pea.  I chose the tomato juice in favor of the fewer calories.  The arrival of the soup reminded me of my father who loved soup, and who tried to order a soup at every French restaurant he ever went to.  None of them served soup, and this gave him the impression that he couldn’t have his vegetables in the way he wanted them.

At Smoky’s my “Surf and Turf” team came with either potato or the “vegetable-of-the-day.” The latter was “pan-seared zucchini,” which struck me as a real vegetable.

So, I tried to find an absence of vegetables, and I didn’t succeed. I do want to know what is at the bottom of this vegetable problem that some visitors to the U.S. seem to be having. I do believe it is a real problem, but I can’t find or even yet imagine the underlying cause.