Making a case for vegetables

Washington, DC - Be sure to eat your vegetables! Not only are they nutritious (vegetables are full of Vitamin A, iron, protein, and other nutrients), but they also add a pop of color and burst of flavor to meals. And, they can play a critical role in healing the food system.

Unfortunately, vegetables are too often overlooked...ignored by researchers and scientists, governments, and by the funding and donor communities. Very little research or funding goes toward vegetable production. Instead, it goes toward staple crops, especially maize, wheat, and soy. Vegetables are even considered a luxury for many of the world’s poor, and, in some cases, indigenous vegetables are thought of as weeds, not food.

As a result, some 2 billion people across the globe suffer from micronutrient deficiencies that can stunt mental and physical development, while curbing economic development.
 
Vegetables are also beneficial when grown in drought-plagued regions. According to researchers at AVRDC—The World Vegetable Center, indigenous vegetables are more resilient to drought and disease than staple crops.

Here’s why: vegetables are typically ready for harvest in less time than staple crops and they maximize scarce water supplies and even soil nutrients.

Clearly, vegetables are essential to the survival of individuals and communities, especially in the face of climate change. We need to invest more in vegetables to create a food system that nourishes both people and the planet! 

The World Vegetable Center is highlighting how vegetables are key players in building a better food system. At their research centers in sub-Saharan Africa, researcher work closely with farmers to cultivate vegetables that are high in nutrients and require few inputs. These centers also work to ensure that farmers earn a livelihood from these vegetable crops. For example, the centers train farmers how to process vegetables for sale, adding value and shelf-life to these perishable crops. In addition, the Center teaches women farmers better ways to cook and prepare vegetables so that they retain their nutrients. 

It’s time to invest in vegetables!

Vegetables are powerful disease fighters. The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) reports that eating vegetables can help prevent heart disease. Similar studies from the Organic Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also reported that getting 4 to 6 servings of vegetables every day may reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity, and some cancers. 

Vegetables are packed with nutrients. In fact, they are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet while keeping calories low. Vegetables are filled with micronutrients critical to human health, including vitamin A, iron, and iodine.

“Vegetables are our best source of the vitamins, micronutrients, and fiber the human body requires for health. They add much-need nutritional diversity to diets,” says Dyno Keatinge, Director General of AVRDC—The World Vegetable Center.

In 2013, New York City doctors started prescribing fruits and vegetables to patients suffering from or who are at risk of obesity and other diet-related illnesses (more than half of adults in New York City are obese or overweight). Program participants receive a monthly script of US$1 per day for each member of the family; these scripts are redeemable for produce purchased at the local farmers’ market. Other U.S. cities have launched similar programs to improve community health as well as boost revenue for farmers. 

Vegetables are cost-effective. Smallholder family farmers make more money (per acre) growing vegetables than they do growing staple crops such as maize or rice. In some countries, farmers working with AVRDC are making eight times as much money growing tomatoes than they could growing rice. In addition, the labor-intensive nature of vegetable production creates jobs in rural communities.

Indigenous and heirloom vegetables—such as the Hinkelhatz pepper cultivated by the Pennsylvania Dutch since the 1880s—are particularly rich in micronutrients and are resistant to pests, cold weather, disease, and drought. The resilience of these vegetables increases farmers’ yields while also improving soil quality and protecting the environment. 

Vegetables adapt to and combat climate change. According to BCFN, vegetables, along with grains and fruit, should form the foundation of a food system that increases health, reduces carbon emissions, and protects the environment.

Vegetables are less affected by extreme weather because they have shorter growing times. Additionally, vegetable growers are protecting future plant biodiversity by creating seed banks and seed exchanges that preserve important food crops. Seed saving also helps farmers and researchers find varieties of crops that grow in extreme climates. 

Vegetables are key to nourishing both people and the planet. We need to invest in vegetables and encourage global citizens to celebrate these nutritious, environmentally friendly, and income-boosting crops.

Join Food Tank and AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center on Tuesday, August 5 at 7pm EST for a free webinar on the need for dietary diversity. 

The Center’s Deputy Director General for Research Jaqueline Hughes, Director General Dyno Keatinge, and nutritionist Ray-Yu Wang will discuss malnutrition, overcoming under and over nutrition, the inter generational transfer of malnutrition, nutrient density of vegetables. Please join us by registering HERE!

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