Dynamist Blog

Eating My Spinach

Candy Sagon of the WaPost reports that "We've become a nation of Popeyes. We are eating record amounts of spinach -- five times more fresh spinach than we did in the 1970s and the highest levels since the 1950s, when parents urged their kids to eat spinach to be strong, just like the animated cartoon sailor."

This is a trend--arguably an aesthetic one--near and dear to my heart. Since my father loves spinach, as a child I faced the dreaded vegetable three or four times a week. We had to eat two bites of our vegetables to get dessert. So I developed the unusual ability to swallow a bite of spinach whole with a swig of milk. I hated spinach so much that I wouldn't even try spinach pasta until I was about 30.

Now I'd happily eat spinach every night, and often eat it three or four times a week. But the spinach I eat isn't the frozen kind my mother used to boil up for dinner. And I'm not alone. Sagon explains:

According to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, annual consumption of all kinds of spinach -- fresh, frozen and canned -- jumped 66 percent in the decade between 1992 and 2002. Canned spinach slipped to a minuscule portion of the market, but fresh spinach has exploded.

U.S. per capita consumption of spinach has reached 2.4 pounds a year, USDA researchers said in a January 2004 report. This is small compared with some other vegetables -- per capita fresh tomato consumption is almost 18 pounds per person, for example -- but still a huge jump considering that, in the bad ol' days of 1975, we barely choked down 5 ounces of the vitamin-rich, dark green leaves.

What's driving the growth is the popularity of those plastic bags of triple-washed spinach in the supermarket and, in particular, the "explosive growth in . . . baby spinach." Baby spinach increasingly shows up in salads at restaurants, salad bars and at home, says the government.

Even as a spinach-loathing child I liked the stuff as salad greens, but back then the only way to get fresh spinach was to grow it yourself, pick it early before it got bitter, and spend a lot of time washing the dirt out of the leaves' many wrinkles. The process was all very bioregionally correct but not exactly a recipe for year-round consumption.

For a great exploration of the nexus between good food, good nutrition, and technological and business innovation, read the whole article. And for more produce blogging, see this old post on grape tomatoes and this one on regulatory barriers to their spread.

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