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Vegetables become en vogue

Vegetable-focused and meatless meals are finding wider acceptance and celebration among European chefs, home cooks, and even school children.

By Kendra Nordin / May 13, 2013

School lunch guidelines require one serving of veggies or fruit, smaller portions and lower calorie counts. Cups of colorful fresh vegetables at Wilson High School in West Lawn, Pa., make an appealing lunch display.

AP Photo/Reading Eagle, Lauren A. Little/File

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A new day is dawning for vegetables in the culinary world. No longer are they just rogue companions to humorless rice on the plates of vegetarians. Veggies, as they are affectionately known, are being embraced by everyone from celebrities to school systems to home cooks. Even European chefs, who once disdained vegetarian food as a form of punishment, have elevated baby peas and Brussels sprouts to levels of haute cuisine.

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Kendra Nordin

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It’s a position that hasn’t been easily won. Ever since Frances Moore Lappé’s “Diet for Small Planet” took off as a bestseller in 1971 – declaring that more resources were used to raise cattle than feed the world – eschewing meat has been something of a political statement that railed against food waste and the unethical treatment of farm animals. For decades, nonmeat eaters and vegetables sagged under the labels of “vegetarian” and “agenda.”

But suddenly wild ramps and zucchini blossoms are hip, and school children, who once fled at the sight of spinach, now munch on sesame kale chips with gusto. Take note: Vegetables are en vouge.

“I’ve always struggled with the ‘vegetarian’ label,” cookbook said author Deborah Madison, who has written about vegetables for more than three decades, to The Washington Post. “When I began writing it was so much about a lifestyle. You were or you weren’t and people didn’t cross that line.” Ms. Madison has recently published “Vegetable Literacy,” which strives to educate home cooks on the delight of discovering flavor relationships within the vegetable family tree.

Eating less meat has had its periodic revolutions in American culinary history. Rev. Sylvester Graham, father of the graham cracker, advocated against eating meat, pepper, and milled flour in the 1830s. A Vegetarian Society gained traction in the mid 1800s. During World War I the United States Food Administration promoted Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday to save resources, and during World War II the government asked Americans to cut back on meat consumption and grow their own vegetables in Victory Gardens to support the war effort abroad.

While those efforts faded after World War II, Meatless Monday was reintroduced in 2003 as a public health awareness program as part of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Britain adopted a similar campaign in 2009, Meat Free Monday, launched by rocker Paul McCartney and his daughters Stella and Mary.

In fact, Mary McCartney has just published a cookbook, “Food: Vegetarian home cooking.” The mission of her cookbook is simply, “food that’s healthy but doesn’t feel righteous,” she told The New York Times, thankful the political discussions that would inevitably flare up when carnivores discovered she was a vegetarian are mostly a thing of the past. “I was shocked by how many debates I’d get into when I had dinner,” she told the Times. “Excuse me, I just met you, I’m having dinner – why are you on my case?”

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