We think of vegetables as plants cultivated for their edible portions. This loose definition includes leaves, stems, roots and tubers, pods, buds, flowers, seeds and fruits.
Leaves: spinach, chard, beet greens, turnip greens, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, kale, cabbage, etc.
Stems: rhubarb stalks, celery, cardoon, fennel, etc.
Roots and tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, radishes, carrots, salsify, parsnips, Jerusalem arthichoke, onions, etc.
Buds and flowers: French artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
Seeds: beans, peas, peanuts, okra (of okra and green beans we also eat the pods), etc.
Fruits: Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins, egg plant, etc.
The plant is the basis of all animal life; all animals deriving their food either directly or indirectly from plants. Plant eating animals always consume vegetables when they can get these and, while we speak of certain forms of animal life as graminivorous, it is a well-known fact that these animals, pigeons, for example, become ill, breed badly and rear fewer young, if they are unable to procure green food as well as grains.
The most marvellous chemical laboratory known resides in the green leaf. Here are formed all the marvellous products of the vegetable world--delightful colors, delicious aromas, foods, poisons, vitamins. But this is not all. Here in this scene of marvellous activity and growth are produced substances that impart the power to grow to young animals, which are unable to synthesize the highly complex organic materials essential to cell functioning out of crude inorganic matter.
Vegetables are one of our most important sources of food; the green leafy ones being, usually, more abundant in alkaline minerals than fruits. They are also rich in vitamins and carry small amounts of proteins of the highest quality. Experience and experiment have shown that the addition of green vegetables to a fruit and nut diet improves the diet and it is a fact that practically all frugivora include green vegetables in their diet.
Many valuable plant foods, weeds we call them now, have been used by peoples at various times, which are no longer in use. The American Indian used many plants, "wild," which we do not use. The Chinese make use of many greens unknown to us. So do the New Zealanders and Abyssinians. Archeologists find evidence that our progenitors made use of a vast number of plants which we ignore. During the Middle Ages salads were in high repute.
The North American Indians cultivated extensive gardens and cultivated many plants, some of which we have dropped from our gardens, perhaps to our detriment. They employed various kinds of greens, many fruits and a number of varieties of nuts and berries. Corn was practically their only cereal.
As shown in the introduction, the medical profession once taught that practically all the fresh fruits and vegtables which we eat, especially in the summer when they are most abundant, are causes of disease. It has required years of constant effort on the part of vegetarians and fruitarians to overcome this fallacy.
It will not be necessary to do more than briefly refer to a few of the more common vegetables. Let us being with the lowly lettuce which is one of the finest vegetables. It is safely alkaline and does not contain the opium that popular superstition says it does. Old fashioned leaf lettuce is superior to head lettuce in food value. Young lettuce is better than old lettuce. Hot house lettuce is of little worth, because it lacks sunshine.
Mr. Harter says: "Now that we in the North are getting Texas-grown lettuce, full of sunshine and good cheer, we feel that the winter lettuce problem is approaching solution." "Eat some lettuce every day. Eat garden-grown lettuce when you can get it--grown right where you live. The next lettuce is that 'shipped in from' Texas. Then comes Florida lettuce, not so good, not probably because of lack of sunshine, but because Florida soils are said to lack something that plant life needs. Texas soil needs no fertilizers while they must be used heavily in Florida. All fertilizers are questionable. Some are very bad; some destroy the value of foods; some make them injurious."
Bulletins Nos. 94-95 of the Defensive Diet League of America say: "We know definitely that lettuce, spinach and other products grown on the comparatively exhaustless soil of Texas and the far West are so much more valuable as foods that it seems almost unbelievable, as for example, such a comparison of vitality as one to ten thousand. Of course loss in shipping long distances must be taken into account."
Spinach, a native of Persia, grows wild in Asia minor. It was cultivated in ancient Babylon and Nineveh. It is a fine food, but it has been much overrated, particularly as a food for children. Beet tops, turnip tops, kale, mustard, dandelion, leeks and other green leafy vegetables may be used instead of spinach.
Cabbage, which grew wild on the shores of the Mediterranean, was gathered for the tables of Rome. It is one of our most valuable vegetables and should not be spoiled by converting it into sour-kraut. A head of cabbage, weighing two pounds, contains more organic salts of iodin than the thyroid gland can use in a week.
The cucumber was among the first cultivated plants and has been known for 2000 years. Fresh, green or ripe, they make excellent foods. Our parents thought they were poisonous. The poison resided chiefly in the skin, which nobody dared to eat, but some of it existed in the body of the cucumber. These excellent foods were first carefully pared and then soaked in salt water to "take the poison out of them." They were accused of causing "fevers." These prejudices, although they persist in the public mind, are unfounded. Cucumbers are not poisonous and do not cause fevers. Their skins are rich in minerals which are valuable to the body.
Cucumbers are especially rich in iron, potash, magnesium and calcium. They rank high among the alkalinizing vegetables. Containing about ninety percent pure water, they form excellent summer foods. They should never be pickled (pickled they are indigestible) nor soaked in salt water. They are best eaten unpeeled, whole, seeds, skins and all. Everyone may relish them whole--unpeeled, unsalted and fresh.
In the eighteenth century, New Englanders burned large stocks of potatoes because they were thought to be harmful and it was believed that if the cattle ate them they would be poisoned.
Okra is a food that comes to us from Africa, where the negroes call it gumbo. It is a tasty and valuable food, though not widely known outside the Southland. In its young, raw state it is very sweet. It is excellent for thickening soups instead of using the usual starches.
Mushrooms, falsely reported to rank high in food value, are as indigestible as boot straps. Simple observations show that they pass through the digestive tract unchanged. Untoward results have been reported as coming from their use.
Many superstitions cluster about the onion family--onions, scallions or shallots, garlic, leeks, chives--are numerous and some of them are very old. They possess none of the curative and prophylactic virtues attributed to them. Garlic will not reduce blood pressure, it is not an intestinal antiseptic, onions will not "cure" gall stones. None of the curative powers attributed to these foods are real.
These bulbs and their blades are rich in mustard oil that imparts to them their irritating quality and renders them unfit for regular articles of diet. The oil is eliminated through the kidneys and must, if used regularly, ultimately impair the kidneys. Their irritating effects upon the digestive system cannot but enervate these. For all their richness in certain valuable food factors, they should be eaten only rarely--and then, only when you are going to be alone.
All foods that grow above ground in the sun are superior to foods that grow under the ground, a fact known to the ancients. Roots and tubers are usually deficient in calcium and sometimes in sodium. This is especially true of potatoes and carrots. Beet tops, radish tops and turnip tops are more important foods than the beets, radishes and turnips.
There is a seasonal rise and fall in the nutritive value of vegetables caused by the varying amounts of sunshine in the different seasons. Spinach, for example, grown in summer is richer in vitamins and basic minerals, such as iron, calcium and manganese, than spinach grown in winter. This is also true of other green vegetables and of fruits and berries. Winter vegetables grown in the far south, Florida, Southwest Texas, etc., are far superior in these respects to winter vegetables grown farther north.
There is a marked difference between the green parts of plants and the seed from the nutritional standpoint. The seeds contain an excess of acids, while the leaves contain an excess of bases. Leaves are richly supplied with sodium and calcium, whereas, all seeds are deficient in these bases. Animals fed on grain, must also be given plenty of green fodder, if they are to rear their young. Even birds must have greens along with their grains. Green leaves contain considerable quantities of vitamin A--more, usually, than most fats contain.
Due to the greater abundance of salts and vitamins in young, rapidly growing plants and also to the fact that most of them are alkaline in reaction, they are better than the matured ones for food. It will be noticed by all who observe them that animals and birds prefer young tender grasses, herbs and seeds to the older forms of plant life. Migratory birds follow the vegetation northward in the Spring and southward in the late Fall.
Young onions, young cabbage, etc., are better than old onions or old cabbage. The same is undoubtedly true of potatoes, popular opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. Young lettuce is better than old lettuce. Young peas, young beans, etc., are basic foods, but matured pulses of all kinds are acid formers. Those of us who are located in the winter-garden and valley regions of Texas, where we have fresh fruits and vegetables all year are to be envied by our less fortunate kinsmen of the North and East.
The outer, greener leaves and stalks of lettuce, celery, cabbage, etc., are superior to their white, inner leaves and stalks. Lazy people, who do not like to chew, dislike the tough outer stalks of celery, or the outer leaves of lettuce. They prefer the "hearts" of these and other such foods. But these outer leaves contain more minerals and are possessed of more of those food qualities to which the name vitamin (or complettin) has been attached. In well-to-do families these better parts of such foods are thrown away; in the poorer families they are not discarded.
In general, green vegetables are the richest sources of minerals and vitamins. Practically all green leaves are rich in vitamin C. Cabbage is also rich in B. Cucumbers are rich in C, as is also the bell pepper. Leaves contain an excess of bases (alkaline salts) while seeds contain an excess of acids. Even nuts, with perhaps one or two exceptions, contain an excess of acids. Green leaves also contain small quantities of very high grade proteins.
The following paragraphs are from the third edition of Chemistry of Food and Nutrition, by Prof. Sherman, of Columbia University: "They (vegetables and fruits) tend to correct both the mineral and the vitamin deficiencies of the grain products, and in a sense they supplement the milk also, in that many of the vegetables and fruits are rich in iron or vitamin C, or both * * * This increasing use of vegetables and fruits improves the food value of the diet at every point at which the American dietary is likely to need improvement.
"The benefit to health which so generally results from a free use of milk, vegetables and fruits in the diet may be attributed in part to the fact that these foods yield alkaline residues when oxidized in the body; but this point should not be too greatly emphasized, for there are several other respects in which the eating of liberal amounts of milk, vegetables, and fruits is certainly beneficial, notably in supplying calcium (lime), iron and vitamins, and in improving the intestinal condition.
"It becomes apparent that a dietary made up, as so many dietaries are, too largely of breadstuffs, meats, sweets, and fats, may be satisfying to the palate and to the traditional demand for variety, may furnish ample quota of protein, calories, with fats and carbohydrates in any desired proportion, and yet may be inadequate because of faults in its mineral and vitamin content. We now understand how it is that fruits, vegetables and milk in its various forms serve (in ways which until recently could not be fully appreciated) to make good the deficiencies of breadstuffs, meat, sweets, and most fats."