The Common Good
May 2006

Broccoli, Exposed

by Ed Spivey Jr. | May 2006

Space in al Qaeda?

Consider the lowly broccoli, pictured here actual size so that we can discuss its health benefits in specific visual detail and, as a result of it being real big on the page, I don’t have to write as much. (It’s been one of those deadlines.)

The broccoli comes from the heart-healthy vegetable group technically known as the “really weird-looking” family of flowering plants. I can speak personally about this weirdness because, having raised the plant for several seasons in my backyard garden, broccoli tends to puts all its energy into stalks the size and consistency of baseball bats. But the florets—the edible parts that remind you of that really bad sci-fi movie where the monster was a giant beach ball painted like a brain—grow so tiny that squirrels perch on electrical lines above and mock them, with a kind of deprecating chittering sound. Nonetheless, when it’s harvest time, I pick them anyway, proudly proclaim, “Look what we grew, honey,” and then throw them immediately into the compost pile.

Much of the nutritional benefit of the broccoli plant resides in the high-fiber florets that provide essential vitamins and cancer-fighting antioxidants. None of this really matters, of course, if during a social occasion one’s date spends the evening smiling with unsightly green flecks in his or her teeth.
The tiny nodules of the broccoli plant are reminiscent of the papillae on the human tongue. Try not to think about this. NOTE: There are unconfirmed reports that broccoli is also the number three vegetable in the al Qaeda organization. White House officials are looking into this.
Scientists do not know if broccoli actually experiences pain when its leaves are cut from the stem of the plant. But children of progressive parents could use this hypothesis when refusing to eat any vegetable that bears the obvious scars of trauma that could have only been caused by knife-like objects wielded in anger.

Setting aside for the moment the enormous personal rewards I experience from growing my own food in the nation’s capital, not all experts agree as to the actual nutritional value of broccoli. On one side of this heated scientific debate there are 10-year-old boys—dressed appropriately in white lab coats—who point out that their experiments with the family dog have shown that, unless the vegetable is deep fried in beef tallow, it is virtually inedible. On the opposite side of the debate, other 10-year-old boys have conducted controlled experiments that reveal that broccoli is very suitable for use as projectiles against passing cars. (Apparently, the stalks make excellent handles.)

Pessimism aside, however, we grown-ups know how good broccoli can be, particularly when ordered from the local Chinese carry-out whose chefs know the proper way to slice them. I have often tried to duplicate this at home, using a traditional Asian cooking cleaver—a birthday gift—but the resulting fingertips in the wok tend not to please invited guests. (Trying to pass them off as extra-firm tofu doesn’t work either.)

Well, I see that’s all the space we have to talk about the wonders of broccoli. Which is too bad, since I have lots more to say on the subject.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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