Stop Calling Them Veggies; Vegetables Are Due Respect

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in: Vegetables

Rainbow chard. Credit: Deborah Madison

At a reading a few weeks ago in Portland, Ore., I finally blurted it out for the first time: “I hate the word veggies!” There was a stirring in the audience. I expected trouble, but instead, there was a solid murmur of agreement. One chef, Cathy Whims of Nostrana, said she couldn’t stand the word either, but was sometimes horrified to hear herself using it on occasion because it’s just around so much. Like using “like.” Can we make it go away?

And why would I bother to have and squander any emotion at all about the word veggies? I’ve wondered myself about why I don’t like it and won’t use it. I think it’s this: The word veggie is infantile. Like puppies. Or Cuties. It reduces vegetables to something fluffy and insubstantial. Think about it: We don’t say “fruities,” or “meaties” “or “wheaties” — unless it’s the cereal. We don’t say “eggies” or “beefies.” We don’t have a Thanksgiving birdy; we have the bird. But we don’t seem to be able to say vegetable.  Certainly it’s no longer than saying “Grass-fed beef” or “I’ll have a latte.”

Veggie turns vegetables into something kind of sweet but dumb, and in turn, one who eats a lot of vegetables might be construed as something of a lightweight, but one who can somehow excused. “It’s just veggies, after all. They’ll snap out of it.”

‘Vegetables’ speaks to their many strong traits

But the word isn’t used just by errant omnivores. Vegetarians are very fond of the word too, and they use it all the time. Plant foods, especially vegetables, are the backbone of vegetarian magazines, yet even there they’re reduced to veggies. I think vegetable is a more dignifying name by far. Just think of what plants do and what they’ve gone through to be on our plates.

They’ve been moved all around the world and gone rather willingly to where we humans have wanted them.

They’ve been altered to be pleasing to human palates.

They have adapted to all kinds of circumstances and survive against all odds and at extremes ranges of heat and cold, wetness and aridity.

The tiniest sprouts can move concrete. Eventually.

They can be dangerous and deadly, or they can be tender and sweet. And some come close to being both in the same plant. Like potatoes and tomatoes.

They can cure ills, for example, aspirin comes from willow; liver remedies are derived from members of the aster family, which include artichokes, burdock, chicories, milk thistle and lettuce among others; brassicas may prevent cancer. There’s the whole pharmaceutical stance one can take regarding vegetables given the truly amazing nutrition they offer.

Radicchio. Credit: Deborah Madison

Radicchio. Credit: Deborah Madison

Vegetables have serious means of protecting themselves — with spines and thorns, or by emitting subtle odors or substances. They can keep other plants at a distance so they alone can make use of limited amounts of water and nutrients; they can find ways to use other plants to climb on. Seed pods are cleverly designed to attach a ride to a jacket, a hat, a dog’s fur to be carried elsewhere to grow. (The burdock burr was the model for Velcro.) And they can defend themselves against predators; pinions discharge a sap that keeps bark beetles from boring in. (The food part is the pine nut).

Plants also keep other forms of life going by attracting bees and hummingbirds, moths and insects, which they feed.  They can sometimes cajole birds into carrying away their seeds to plant elsewhere. Plus they give us flowers and fruits in abundance. We love honey of all varietals — especially that derived from thyme, a member of the mint family, and flowers, too. We even use flowers in the kitchen.

Their seeds can sometimes last for hundreds of years or more. Some sprout only in fires, which is one reason burned forests can recover some kind of growth soon after a fire.

Angelica. Credit: Deborah Madison

Angelica. Credit: Deborah Madison

They don’t complain when we waste them by using only the most tender parts and ignoring rough-looking leaves and stems and cores. Chickens are grateful of them.

In short, plants are generally quite amazing, strong and clever beings that evolve with time. Whether you are an omnivore or a vegetarian (or a chicken), we all benefit by eating plants. Plant foods. Vegetables. Fruits. Seeds. Stalks. Heads. Crowns. Skins. Cores.

I hadn’t thought about it when I was working on “Vegetable Literacy,” but I think — I hope — that the book, among other things, offers a way to go beyond the “veggie” concept of vegetables by introducing them as the eccentric and powerful personalities they are.

Top photo: Rainbow chard. Credit: Deborah Madison


Zester Daily contributor Deborah Madison is the author of many books on food and cooking, including "The Greens Cookbook" and "Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers Markets." Her latest book, "Vegetable Literacy," is a 2014 James Beard Award winner.

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Comments

Clifford Wright
on: 5/23/13
Hear, hear. And while we're at I'd like to ban that silly word "foodies." Or do I have it backwards? Should wine aficionados be called winos?
Barbara Haber
on: 5/23/13
Thank you Deborah. You make me realize why I have been cringing every t time I hear "veggie", that demeaning and trivializing word. You so eloquently summarize the nobility of the plant world, and aren't we fortunate to have you making the case.My heartiest congratulations on your wonderful new book.
Giovanna Zivny
on: 5/23/13
Agreed. And I second the ban on the word 'foodies'...always hated that.
Elissa | PoorMansFeast
on: 5/23/13
Amen sistah. ("Veggie" makes me cringe.)
Lisa
on: 5/23/13
I'd love to pass on some real problems to anyone in need. I would guess the reason people don't say fruties is because that then makes more syllables and the reason they say veggies because it has less.I am just guessing here. To each his own. I'm sure we all have something that bugs the crap outta others. Toe may toe........Toe may tah.
another Lisa
on: 5/23/13
Toe mah toe Maybe they call them veggies because they are so fond of them. Terms of endearment. Nickname. I call my very impressive, accomplished husband "Sweetie" or "Honey" from time to time. I hope he doesn't feel diminished...
Rachel
on: 5/23/13
Can we also please (PLEASE) stop saying "foodie"? See above...
Margret
on: 5/24/13
Actually, perhaps "veggie" as a more child-friendly word continues to "stick" because of those who, as adults, continue to be fussy (and juvenile) about eating theirs.
Laura Rizzardini
on: 5/24/13
Obviously, your concerns aren't just superficial. You've convinced me that vegetables deserve more respect. I'll never say "veggie" again. I promise to banish "foodie" from my vocabulary, too. Now, please join me in banishing "food porn"; what an oxymoron.
Anne Mendelson
on: 5/28/13
"Veggies" is a HORRIBLE word! (And "foodies" deserves to be used for horrible people.)
pierino
on: 5/28/13
I hate the word "veggie" as much as I hate the word "foodie". Call me a "foodster" if you want, but I hate any acronym that ends in "ie".
Charlotte
on: 5/28/13
Amen and amen again! I worked at a produce farm and they had a healthy-eating-produce-growing kit they'd send out to schools to teach kids about the importance of vegetables. I worked in the offices of the kid's program from time to time and heard "veggies" about 5 dozen times a day! IT DROVE ME UP THE WALL!!!!!!! You make very valid points, Ms. Madison! "Veggies" sounds so disrespectful, like calling someone by just their last name! UGH!!!!!
Adriane Ayres
on: 5/28/13
I wish I called them veggies. At least I did a couple weeks ago when my 22 year old son asked me to stop saying "veg" because to him it sounded like a part of tne female anatomy. (A friend in the UK passed on the habit of that little word, their preferred term of endearment for vegetables. Better or worse than veggies? IDK)
sally
on: 5/28/13
ME TOO! Also bristle at being called a Foodie...by friends.
sally
on: 5/28/13
Bravo, Barbara Haber!
Blake
on: 5/28/13
If you're going to be a prescriptive nanny about language, please stop anthropromorphizing plants. The only precise definition of "vegetable" is "plant matter." Grouping together a bunch of edible parts of different plants, sometimes including fruits such as tomatoes while excluding botanically similar fruits like cherries, and calling them "vegetables" is already making casual use of the language.
Carole Harlam
on: 5/28/13
Thank you, Deborah, for bringing this up. I've always despised the word - which has been banned from my home. It may have originated with the "diet police" and nutritionists in an effort to make vegetables more appealing.
Nancy Harmon Jenkins
on: 5/28/13
Well, I read this and I thought brava Deborah, I will be the first to say "Right on!" But I see I'm not in the minority, not at all. If we all band together, we can do something about this--veggies, foodies, and all the rest of the trivialization of what's important to us. Down with veggies! Up with vegetables! Hoorah!
LLC
on: 5/28/13
"I'd love to pass on some real problems to anyone in need."- Lisa Exactly how I felt when I read this.....
Terra
on: 5/28/13
Thank you, Deborah, for giving vegetables the respect they deserve. And from the comments, it seems you've struck a chord!
Bob Douglass
on: 5/28/13
The combination of clear film, a microwave, what ever seasoning you like and 2 or 3 minutes gives you most any vegetable you may like. real quick. Just go buy them and have a good dinner.
Jean | DelightfulRepast.com
on: 5/28/13
Thank you -- I hate that word, too!
Paul Levy
on: 5/28/13
As one of those who coined "foodie," I think I ought to point out that we intended it as...well, slightly derogatory - at the very least our intention was satirical. It was never baby-talk like "veggies," a term I feel ought to be reserved for silly people. So maybe it is a bit like "foodies."
Alice Medrich
on: 5/28/13
I never liked that word (or foodie for that matter) either! Adding to all of the comments above, "veggies" also makes vegetables sound like they are just one thing, as though they were all alike without glorious individual flavors and textures. I imagine some great indiscriminate moosh of a dish full of all kinds of "veggies" cooked together simply because they are healthy. The sixties, but in a bad way....Ugh. Congratulations on yet another beautiful book Deborah!
Alice Medrich
on: 5/28/13
PS. I never liked the word "chocoholic" either....
Killian
on: 5/28/13
For me, Blake hits it on the head. While I have used both "vegetables" and their colloquial nickname, it seems like a rather insignificant detail over which to get ones knickers into knots. Should we also protest the tomatoes are marketed near the vegetables in the produce section of stores when they are actually a fruit? What about peanuts? They aren't "nuts". They are legumes. Perhaps we should also organize protests against the incorrect placement of jars of Planters next to the almonds and cashews! Or better yet, a boycott! If you don't like that someone calls you personally a "foodie" because you find it offensive, by all means offer a polite (or impolite as you will!) correction. But to waste time and space on getting offended because some people are linguistically lazy? I've got better things to do.
Veggie Obsession
on: 5/28/13
I have the utmost respect for vegetables and their infinite variety. I am constantly fascinated by them, and I spend my spare time dreaming up recipes to cook all those wonderful vegetables that most people have never heard of, like kohlrabi and purslane. I use the term veggie merely as a term of endearment.
Ellen
on: 5/28/13
First World Problems.
Renee Marton
on: 5/28/13
While I agree that "veggies" is awful, and I have always disliked it, it people eat more vegetables as a result of changing their vocabulary, I guess I can put up with it.
Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne
on: 5/29/13
Nice article, Deborah! Mike and I have an olive-specific campaign to do away with the use of the utterly incorrect "olive varietal" when people mean "olive variety." I hate that. It has oozed over from the wine world, where the battle has been lost to "grape varietals." I personally think that the English term "veg" is far preferable to "veggie" when people want something short. I can't say that the objection posed by Adriane's son about female anatomy convinced me at all; I think "veg" has a solid and reliable sound to it. No frills, no cuteness, to the point. Works for me when I want something short to refer to my beloved vegetable kingdom.
Deborah Madison
on: 5/29/13
So many responses! I haven't been able to respond to your comments as they come in, but I've certainly found them interesting. Here are some of my thoughts: I am okay with "veg" because it makes me think of vegetation. But then of course, there's "vegging out" which raises a host of associations not to go into today. But as Alexander says, "veg" has a solid and reliable sound to it." I appreciate those who see "veggies" as a kind of affectionate nickname for something loved. As for real problems, there's no lack of those. Starting with Monsanto. And climate change. They occupy quite a bit of my thoughts and experience, as I see my once green world drying up and blowing away in the constant wind. But as a food writer who deals with vegetables, "veggie" is another world I live and work in. And as for all those distinctions about vegetable fruits versus true vegetables, peanuts versus nuts and the like - I'm guessing we all know what we mean by vegetables, and I do make those distinctions in "Vegetable Literacy". Glad to see the subject of varietals and varieties addressed. And thanks to all for the discussion. It quite surprised me!
Amelia Saltsman
on: 5/29/13
I add my voice to the thundering cry: down with "veggie"! But I have to say, it's "foodie" that really sticks in my craw. I suppose that's because it's personal. I've not been called a veggie or a vegetable (and hope I never will be), but it's fingers on the blackboard when someone calls me a foodie.
Lorna Carroll
on: 6/2/13
I couldn't agree more- the word 'veggie' makes me cringe. If people don't want to say or write the whole word then 'veg' is already in existence; why invent a different, babyish word?
Meredith Kurtzman
on: 6/2/13
One of the more annoying,dopey expressions,I'd agree....and remember when all else fails,the unused portions certainly help the compost pile along.
Chris Yli-Luoma
on: 6/5/13
Respect yourself and call it what makes you feel good - Veg, veggie, vegetables - really the choice is your own. All I know is that I care if you eat your greens, reds, purples and whatever other colour you can imagine. But I do love this piece of writing. Now the unimaginative word that I would love to see some play on? Produce. The wonderful universe of fruits and vegetables is so often reduced to produce. And we might say it a bit different in Canada - but the spelling is still the same. Any suggestions on that one? Cheers twitter.com/freshguru
Kaye
on: 1/15/14
I actually started calling them "veg" after I started reading a few Australian food blogs. It's short, text-message friendly, and it reminds me of "fridge" (refrigerator), where most of my vegetables live.
Vonelle
on: 1/15/14
THANK YOU
Alejandrina Pattin
on: 1/22/14
why confuse respect for vegetables with an endearing term for them? Deborah, you have taught me most of what I know about vegetables, have helped change my diet to a far more balanced one that always includes vegetables in abundance. I still refer to them as veggies, sometimes, and don't feel I am demeaning anything.

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