Evolution is such a bitch. Just because fat and salt were in scarce supply for the first Forever of our development of a species, we’ve evolved the tendency to just crave them like hell and fill up on them whenever they’re available; and now, when we’ve been Not Starving in the UK for a whole two generations! I mean, two, come on! Somehow we haven’t evolved immediately into people who crave exactly what our bodies require at all times in order to meet a set of fairly arbitrarily-designated dietary parameters. Why is that?
We didn’t even need to develop a craving for vegetation because that was what was always going to be around, and also the majority of it is calorifically void, so during that Forever of Starving that we had we’ve for some mysterious reason gravitated towards high-calorie, low-effort foods because That Kept Us Alive or some boring shit like that, and fell back on vegetables because, well, we had to. And they were there. And they didn’t run away or bite you or require milling or milking or anything. Fuckin’ vegetables.
No wonder so many people hate them. I mean, Default Food isn’t exciting, they’re not contributing to your endorphins the same way fat and salt do, by servicing a literal millennia-deep survival-oriented addiction, and they’re not servicing that silly calorie-led need for sweet stuff and starches, unless you’ve eaten nothing but paper for months. Around then carrots start tasting like chocolate. So, under those circumstances, does your own arm.
Not to mention a lot of people have basically vegetable PTSD. Thanks to the Depression, WWII, and austerity in quick succession, not to mention being the first industrialised nation on earth, the UK has effectively gone Food Stupid for several generations, with old skills and preferences being replaced by “it’s a fucking pie I have to get back to work now” and “we don’t have any vegetables right now would you like some tinned green dye” and “I have boiled this until it is soft because we have no teeth”.
I mean, there’s a reason we’re consistently mocked for having terrible food. We’ve had well over a hundred years in which to lose our ability to food like sane human beings, and after the involuntary dieting of Depression, WWII, Austerity, as a country we kind of turned into one national eating disorder. People who have been starving for a long time go weird. If you’re finding it hard to force yourself into poking steamed kale into your face like some kind of virtuous rabbit while the media informs you simultaneously that you’re a disgusting personal failure for not enjoying this more and also that what you’re eating is boring and what you really want is more chocolate, but you can’t have chocolate, so you should buy chocolate but then either throw it away or eat it and feel bad and then buy all this other stuff to feel better, muahaha, capitalism…
… take heart in knowing that a) you’re part of a culture that is mentally bloody ill and hell-bent on punishing itself, and b) there is nothing whatsoever the matter with not liking food that is presented to you in a boring way with a huge fanfare about how good for you it is.
Also, you’re a grown adult. Saying “Mmm, yummy yummy kale” is not actually going to work as well as the marketing department thinks. That sort of psychology tends to go best with children.
But you know you need to eat some of the bloody stuff because the Government and NHS said so, and that’s really the case: your body evolved to eat a shittonne of vegetables and so it doesn’t work well when it’s eating no vegetables and a lot of refined flour. That’s not because vegetables are “inherently better”, it’s not because chocolate is “sinful”; food is not good or bad. Food is food. Our bodies just happen to have evolved a certain way, over periods of time, because of what was available to us. Putting stuff into the human machine that it is designed to take makes it work better than putting stuff in that it isn’t used to, much as servicing your car regularly and using the right sort of petrol gets better results than using bioethanol and ignoring it for 364 days of the year, even if the latter is “better”.
Oh and before I continue any further: evolution is a work in progress. There is no “end goal” beyond effective self-replication, and it doesn’t stop happening. So the Paleo people who consistently make themselves miserable eating no bread and enormous lumps of meat which they mysteriously don’t allow to partially decay before eating despite that being Very Authentic are deluding themselves: we’ve been making bread as a species for a damn long time. There are some things we’re better adapted to than others – and Steven Johnson has a very interesting theory about the evolution of alcohol tolerance in urbanised places where boiling water (for tea etc) was not the norm – because we’ve been doing them for longer, but it is worth noting that ultimately if we can digest it then it is food and there is no reason to cut anything out of your diet completely unless it is actively making you ill.
Also if you think something is actively making you ill see the bloody doctor, don’t buy an allergy-testing kit from Holland and Barrett and decide you’re never eating raspberries again because the little thingy said so.
Tips, Tricks, Recipes, Fooling Your Brain
So after all that, I have a handful of ways to convince your brain that you’re not eating the Horrible Vegetables after all, which should hopefully taste alright, and which doesn’t involve any scolding about you being “sinful” or “indulgent“, no infantalising language, and no woo.
Soups & Smoothies
So the thing about vegetables is that a lot of the time people hate them because of the texture. The texture is weird. You’ll have seen a lot of advice about this but really do bear in mind that just by thwipping things about a bit in a blender you can make a soup (or smoothie) that removes all the gross texture of fruit or veg and leaves nothing but taste. If you’re a bit iffy about eating soup, remember that soup is, effectively, just a sauce and you can use it as the base of a stew. No one pays that much attention to it after you’ve cooked chicken thighs in it for several hours.
Smoothies, too, might be a bit off-putting and health-ish, but not if you try reducing them down over a heat with some sugar and then pour them on ice-cream, because then they’re not “smoothies”, they’re sauce.
Pancakes & Cakes
Soup gets boring quickly, and sometimes people hate vegetables because of the ass-like taste. This is the only recipe I will include here and it’s pretty simple and adaptable. The great thing about this is that two of them amount to one of your 5 a day, and they don’t taste remotely like vegetables.
- 40g of grated or blendered courgette (can be replaced with any other sort of grated or blendered anything).
- 2 x tbsp of flour. Can use chickpea flour for a nice specific taste or just regular flour.
- Water if you need it
- Bitta salt, some spices, y’know
- Mix all that together until you have a thick gloopy paste.
- Fry it on both sides in a hot pan until it is cooked through
- Congratulations you have a pancake which is full of vegetables and almost certainly does not taste of it.
You can also make vegetable-based cakes like carrot cake, which usually tastes of Health Food, but which when you make it yourself can be rendered fantastic by adding cocoa powder and more sugar. Pro tip: adding cocoa powder to anything improves it enormously, and you can do it to anything you want. There is no rule that says you can’t make chocolate banana cake, or chocolate courgette cake, or chocolate flippin’ coleslaw if you want. You’re a grown-up!
Further note: you can also mix grated and blendered stuff into omelettes or traditional pancake mix, tomato paste into omelettes, etc, and bam! Another helping of your 5-a-day is done.
Burgers and other meat tricks
Meat, unlike vegetables, which we have established taste of ASS, tastes awesome. Happily, that particular AWESOME taste can be used to mask the ASS taste and help smuggle some vegetable helpfulness into your diet.
Firstly, if you can deal with the texture but not the taste of some veggies, there’s the simple expedient of frying or roasting your veg in the same pan or tray you’re doing your meat in. Lamb, as most people know, is good for this, because it’s so fatty. Yes, you’re eating cabbage, but as far as your tastebuds are concerned it’s just an extra helping of lamb, smothered in lamb fat. Your 80g portion of peas, boiled, can still be rolled through the cooling pan for a bit before you serve them, giving you some happy little lamby tidbits – and thanks to the surface-area-to-mass ratio, you have hardly any veg taste and a whole lot of meat taste to enjoy.
If you really cannot stomach vegetable textures, no big. This is where the trusty food mixer comes in again. Grab your veg portion, run it through the mixer until it’s a paste, then mix it 50/50 with burger mince and whatever you’re using to bind it. This gives you a) no veggie taste and b) twice the amount of burger for the same amount of meat! MAGICAL.
Yeah, I know, making your own burgers from scratch is a massive pain in the arse but you only have to do one big batch and fling the rest in the freezer and then you can can have frozen burgers the way God and Nature intended.
Part of your hatred of vegetables also comes from your brain associating “green” with “oh god no not more boiled sadness”. There are two solutions: some vegetables are naturally Not Green, like carrots, pumpkin, most squashes, parsnips, tomatoes-which-everyone-will-remind-you-are-a-fruit, and aubergines which you almost certainly do not like because look at them, they’re fucking weird. The other is food colourant.
If your brain is an angry, sulky toddler about Not Eating Green, you can use food colouring to adulterate whatever paste, gloop, or soup you’re making that’s likely to be vibrantly that colour, and drag it around to either something a little more neutrally Foodlike (brown is often a good one because your brain will decide it is meat), or if you’re feeling daring splatter in some blue and eat something virulently turquoise.
Butter, Salt, Honey, Oil, The Roasting Dish Solution
Perhaps you don’t want to have to pulverise everything you eat. That’s fine. It makes you feel like a fucking grandma. Perhaps you’re even trying to edge your way around to actually liking vegetables either for reasons of virtuosity or just because it annoys you to be blocked off from so much potential food matter, or you’d like to be able to show off in restaurants, or whatever. Your reasons are your own. I’m just here to tell you that one way to do this is roasting.
So you know how roast potatoes are basically the pinnacle of potato (barring chips) and everyone agrees they are superior, and you’d shank a toddler for a roastie over a boiled potato? Same applies to every other vegetable. Even sprouts! You know brussel sprouts? It turns out they’re not so disgusting when they’ve not been boiled yellow and turned into mush by sitting in a pan for forty years, leeching all their nutrients into the water.
So chop up your veg, arrange it in a roasting tray, Google “how to roast [vegetable name]”, and follow the instructions. The oil and butter are for roasting it in, and the honey, or salt, or herb mix, or spice mix, are for making it taste nicer and for distracting you from the fact you’re eating vegetables. Honey-roast carrots are a good place to start.
And if you’re not ready for roasting, and want to really ease yourself into vegetables slowly: frying is a thing. Anything that can have chips made out of it – carrots, parsnips, swede, turnip – is good for a go, and if you look up “tempura vegetables” you’ll see a wealth of possibilities. There’s also stir-frying, which invariably makes things taste of whatever you’re frying them in. I suggest putting a little stock powder in your oil to make your greens taste of chicken.
Ketchup, Baked Beans: Hidden veg, possibly crouching fruit
I might be lying a tiny bit about the crouching fruit.
(Did I choose to draw a banana specifically because I could make it look like a dude with a ridiculous penis? Come on. Of course I fucking did).
Did you know that a serving of baked beans in tomato sauce counts towards 1 of your 5 a day? Neither did I! Apparently that is a real thing. The same goes for other things tinned in tomato sauce, like spaghetti, or ravioli. Tomatoes are a magical thing! But you can’t just eat five and call it a day, unfortunately – they only count as one. Variety is necessary.
Ketchup is, as you know, made from tomatoes. You can add it to other vegetables to make them taste less of vegetables. It’s not actually very high in calories, either. Everyone’s heard of someone who only escaped scurvy as a student because they put ketchup on their relentlessly-consumed plain pasta…
Ice Lollies & Jellies
That’s right. You don’t have to dive into Actual Whole Pieces of Fruit for desserts. You don’t have to cautiously throw in expensive peaches or turn into your Nan with a tin of pineapple chunks. You can pudding yourself up with this stuff. Homemade jellies with gelatin or (somewhat easier to my mind, if harder to find, and bonus: if you are a vegetarian who is worried that living solely on cheese is going to kill you, it’s vegetarian) agar agar, and fruit juice. As long as the actual fruit juice is made from actual fruit, you can bang in some sugar to sweeten it while you’re boiling the water, and then you have low effort puddings for days, and days, just sitting in the fridge, being jelly.
A bit more agar agar in the mix and you can make FRUIT GUMMY SWEETS. That’s sweets. That have a value on your 5 A Day front. Seriously!
Ice lollies: I think most people are aware of this already. Everyone’s parents probably did the thing. Mine didn’t, because we didn’t have a freezer that would fit lolly moulds, because The Eighties, but happily in these enlightened times you can now buy silicone molds that make Calipso-style lollies, so even if your freezer compartment barely fits an ice tray you can still have a fruit lolly. And because you’re a fucking grown-up, you’re not limited to “Mum says I can have apple juice or orange juice”, you can go mental. You can mix juices. You can put in actual pieces of fruit. You can buy wanky smoothies and freeze them in molds. You are the boss of freezing fruit.
Yeah I know it sounds fucking weird but it’s very sweet and you just chew it up while you’re doing other stuff, like sweets, and pow, job done, vitamins etc achieved, Government appeased, body slightly less likely to fall into pieces. It’s not quite “taking a vitamin pill”, in terms of easiness, but is definitely higher on the “making your body not die” scale because it’s actually made from fruit and the process of alleged extraction isn’t quite so insane.
Disclaimer: I actually quite like vegetables (most of them, at least) and eat quite a large amount. But I’m not about to sit here and start moralising at people about how they eat. Far more important that you eat. If anyone tries to make you feel bad about eating food when there are still people in this world who’re starving themselves to death, fucking eat them.
EDIT: Of course, I wrote one blog post about this and it turns out someone much cleverer than me has an entire blog about smuggling vegetables into your diet…