Shocked. That’s the word that best describes how I felt when a dear friend told me she didn’t eat vegetables last week. “Well, I love green beans,” she said. “And in the last couple of years, we occasionally eat broccoli. But that’s about it. I’m just not a fan.”
I’m a Georgia girl through and through, and I thought she was, too, but I had apparently made an incorrect assumption. How could anyone raised in Georgia not be a fan of fresh vegetables? They’re delicious. They’re nutritious. They’re abundant here.
“What do you mean, ‘You don’t eat vegetables?’” I asked, thinking I had somehow misunderstood her comment.
“Well, I don’t eat greens, cabbage, Brussels sprouts or those green spear-looking things,” she continued. “I can’t remember what those spear-like things are called.”
“Asparagus? Is that what you are talking about? Asparagus?”
For a second, I thought I was having a stroke. My right eye started twitching uncontrollably. What 50-something-year-old country girl doesn’t eat vegetables and know the names of most vegetables? I started reconsidering our entire relationship.
My husband and I consume a lot of vegetables. We eat them every single day. I grow them in our garden. I love to go to the farmers markets and buy fresh veggies grown in local dirt. My favorite part of a grocery store is the produce department, and I fill my buggy (also known as a shopping cart) with a week’s worth of fresh vegetables.
“What about tomatoes?” I asked my friend.
“Oh yeah,” she snapped. “I’ll eat a tomato, and I’ll eat salad.”
Well, thank goodness for that. I guess we can still be friends.
Our conversation reminded me of my college days at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I was 18 when I went off to school, and I was immediately introduced to the world of fast foods. After a couple of months, I was tired of Domino’s pizza and greasy burgers and fries from the Varsity, just across Interstate 75. Plus, I’d gained a few pounds — something people refer to as the “Freshman Fifteen.” I craved the array of fresh foods that graced my family’s supper table as I was growing up.
During my sophomore year, I got a new roommate. Mandy grew up on a farm near Conyers. She and I had a lot in common. First, she and I were both terribly homesick and dissatisfied with school. Second, she, too, missed eating vegetables.
One afternoon, she looked at me and asked, “What are you doing after classes today?”
“Nothing,” I replied.
“I want you to go somewhere with me,” she said. “Let’s leave at about 5:30.”
Later that day, Mandy drove us across campus and onto Fourteenth Street. She pulled into a modest mom-and-pop restaurant called, “Bobby and June’s Kountry Kitchen.” The two of us went inside and sat down at a booth with a mini jukebox mounted on the wall that played Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Hank Williams tunes for a quarter. A waitress that looked a bit like Flo on the 1970’s sitcom Alice greeted us chewing a piece of gum.
“Y’all girls want the special this evening?” she asked. “It’s a vegetable plate — squash, beans, fried okra, stewed tomatoes and rice, and macaroni and cheese. We serve it with a basket of fresh buttermilk biscuits.”
We both nodded.
“I’ll bring y’all some sweet tea in a minute,” she said, popping her gum loudly as she turned and walked away.
The food came out ten minutes later on the same cheap plastic plates that my high school cafeteria used. Mandy and I were in hog heaven. We were happy as clams. We cleaned our plates — eating each delicious bite with big smiles on our faces. The food was so good, it made us want to slap our mamas (that’s just a figure of speech).
We ate there once a week for the rest of the year. It was our place — our secret. None of our other friends craved vegetables the way we did, and they didn’t understand our obsession with Bobby and June’s.
Mandy succumbed to homesickness and left Tech after that year, and I never saw her again.
The following year, I was assigned a new roommate from Pendergrass, Georgia, a small stop in the road between Athens and Gainesville. Sherry and I hit it off immediately. One afternoon, she looked at me and said, “I miss my daddy. I miss home. I’d give anything to eat some home-cooked vegetables.”
I drove her over to Bobby and June’s that evening, and the two of us feasted on vegetables while listening to old country and western songs. It was one of those bonding experiences I’ll never forget.
“This is the best place ever,” she said.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: vegetables remind some of us of home. I can’t imagine a world without fresh tomatoes, okra, peas, potatoes, turnips, mustard, cucumbers, carrots, beets, etc. As for people that don’t eat them, well, I really have to wonder about those people. Can they even be trusted? I don’t think so.