Friday, January 25, 2008

Big Vegetable

For a few weeks during finals last term, I was hardly eating except when food was magically brought to me by the nice pizza guy or even more nicely, by The Dude. But except for those non-pizza meals, I wasn't getting much protein or vitamins. I ate a lot of cereal and pizza. I was worried for my health. I did not want to get scurvy like a pirate, or some adult-case of Rickets.

Then for a few weeks this month, when I was frantically searching for housing and packing and preparing for school, I was hardly eating except for cereal and takeout, or Dude Food. Again, I worried.

Hipster Law Prof and янтарный told me to take multivitamins. This sounded sensible. The only vitamins I had on hand were Geritol (I think I grabbed my mother's by mistake over break), but I figured the extra calcium couldn't hurt. But lately I've been cooking again, partly because I can't afford to eat out anymore, and also because such rituals of hearth and home soothe me during school.

"Look," I told The Dude, pointing at some sauteed on-sale blue lake green beans that I served with the on-sale lamb chops (total cost of the meal for two: $7!). "Vegetables! I am being good! We should try to eat more vegetables. I am going to try to make more dishes with vegetables from now on."

This, for some reason, was met with a bemused look and a slightly derisive snort.

"Why do you think they're so much better for you than the vitamins you're already taking?"

"Because they say so."


"I dunno. Those fitness magazines. Doctors. People on TV. The FDA Food Pyramid. EVERYONE. What on earth are you talking about?!"

"Snort. You are soooo in the grips of the fruit-and-vegetable lobby. Big Vegetable! You can survive on a multivitamin!"

This then devolved into a many-days debate over the relative merits of natural vitamins derived from food vs. chemically synthesized vitaminscompressed in tablet form. Can you "survive" on just amino acids (whatever protein source you want), glucose (starches/carbs), and a Centrum?

Yes, I will concede to The Dude, after he showed me table after table of the chemical breakdown of various vegetables and fruits, and compared them to the chemical composition of a multivitamin, it appears that you can survive on a multivitamin. I have, I admit, survived on an IV drip for seven days, after my appendix burst. So, yes, it seems that you can get your vitamin and mineral needs delivered in an alternate format, as the chemical composition doesn't change. If the question is what is more efficacious and efficient for the body's absorption, then that's a minor detail. We are talking here of necessity. The fact is that whole (and probably uncooked) fruits and vegetables have other properties like antioxidants and phytochemicals that don't come in Centrum, so that's why you eat those. But can you survive on a Centrum? Conceivably, I suppose.

Perhaps, I might concede that there is at work a powerful fruit-and-vegetable lobby that has exercised undue influence on the FDA. After all, I recall the efforts by the Beef Industry during the mad cow scare and E.coli outbreaks to rehabilitate the meat to the public, and their marketing strategy now of "man food" and "It's What's For Dinner." Also, don't forget how pork, bandied about as high fat for years, marketed itself as "The Other White Meat." The corn industry is in full force this year, what with the shortage due to the demands for ethnanol. I am sure the grain industry has something to do with why the FDA inexplicably suggests 6-11 servings of grains a day.

Arguing with a chemistry/economics guy who did brand marketing and consulting makes me wonder why people complain about arguing with lawyers. I think that I am perfectly reasonable and acommodating in debates.

In any case, what say you, educated readers? Surely some of you have degrees in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, food science, nutrition, I dunno. Or maybe your partners do. Do you think man can live on Centrum alone? Do you think Centrum works as well as fruit and vegetables in their natural state? Which is more efficiently absorbed by the body? Do fruits and vegetables deliver nutrients that are essential that you can't otherwise get in a chemically synthesized form? Do you think there's a Big Vegetable Lobby at work here, indoctrinating us with our 3-5 a day?

Settle the debate. I am at some point going grocery shopping this weekend, I am sure, and am going to have to figure out the menu.