In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

Why Vegetables are Important

You can't be healthy without eating well. The cornerstone of that belief is "You are what you eat," meaning your diet directly affects your total being.

The phrase originated in the French (c.1826) translating loosely as 'Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are; followed by a similar injunction in German in 1863: "Man is what he eats." It then appeared briefly in English during the 1920s and '30s, with the nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, who published a popular book with that title in 1942; after which it passed from the public purview, receiving a new lease in the hippy era of the 1960s, promoting macrobiotic and whole-grain diets and healthy living in general.

Looking to buy into the concept? A good place to begin is with your veggies. Packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals, they promise to lower your risk for osteoporosis, stroke, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and other causes of mortality.

Wow! Bring 'em on!

Their roots are equally exciting — embedded in the Medieval Latin vegetabilis, "growing or flourishing" from vegetare, "to grow or enliven" from vegere, vegetus, "to arouse or impart vigor." A close kin to vigere, "to flourish," they make you both vigorous and vigilant.

How ironic that vegging out (c.1990s) now means "relaxing in a slothful or mindless manner (like a couch potato)" — casting aspersions on an important contribution to our health and well being. Or that being in a vegetative state puts one in a waking but unconscious condition.

Vegetables did have their moment in the sun in 1935 when Popeye the Sailorman first appeared on the radio. After his debut, we would never again look at them the same way — especially spinach.

There are varying accounts for the origins of spinach. Some think it derives from the Latin spina, "thorn," So if you're wondering where Popeye got his backbone, look no further. It was no match when Popeye took on the spineless Brutus, thanks to spinach.

Popeye's popularity and association with the vegetable was, in fact, so great, that in the 1930s, spinach growers in the United States credited him with a tri-fold increase in its consumption. In honor of his good deeds, he became the first cartoon character to be immortalized in a public sculpture in Crystal City, Texas.

Popeye has since gone on to become the number one licensed character on food brands in the world, promoting everything from fried chicken to frozen foods to Pepsi. He is also a major theme park attraction at Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Japan. His imprint can also be seen in the world of fashion where there has been successful retail promotion of his image on several clothing lines.

Given the quality and healthiness of what he endorses — better perhaps that Popeye should have just vegetated.

Most people today veg out before a TV. Better you should do it at the kitchen table with a bowlful of greens.