The Fabulous Story of Vegetables (or, how humans are different from donkeys)

Yes, a book called Vegetables: A Biography sounds like it could be a real snooze; the French title, The Fabulous Story of Vegetables is a little better but sounds as if it could be a little tongue-in-cheek: aren’t vegetables, well, vegetative? Boring and dull, what could be said of them that might come close to being called a story?

As it turns out, plenty. Because while it’s tempting to regard vegetables as products of nature (which, in a sense, they are) in fact, almost every vegetable that’s ever entered your body is in fact a product of culture, and not merely in terms of how it has been prepared. Vegetables have been ‘tamed’ every bit as much as domestic animals have been tamed, bred carefully from their wild ancestors for the characteristics we like.

Think the ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ color of carrots is orange? Think again–they come in purple, yellow, red, and more; orange was simply the shade of carrot favored by Flemish painters, and the orange ones came to dominate.

I have a review of Evelyne Bloch-Dano’s surprising book at Books & Culture. Read it if you dare to let vegetables astound you with their fabulous history…