The carrot and the schtick
WASHINGTON -- To: Exalted Commandant and Plenipotentiary, Big Vegetable Inc.
Re: A business proposal
I want to congratulate you and your conglomerate for pulling off the marketing feat of modern times, and to suggest that we collaborate on a book. The book would be called "How to Get Rich by Cornering the Market on Goo." I ask that you contact me inasmuch as I have no mailing address for you; I am assuming your corporate offices and production facilities are in an aircraft-carrier-size warehouse bunker at an undisclosed location somewhere in a large, square, agriculturally intensive state. You do what you do in secrecy, so no embarrassing quality-control questions may be asked.
Your business model is brilliant. You have somehow created a pricing structure and distribution process ensuring that every mediocre restaurant in America finds it advantageous to buy and serve your product, shipped in industrial-size bags that contain -- this never varies -- a mixture of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. The restaurants place this on their menus as "mixed vegetables," or, more festively, "vegetable medley," or even more festively, "vegetable jubilee," which the restaurant has defrosted and steamed into that familiar limp, negligible, mucilaginous side dish.
I have encountered this product in nearly every moderately priced American-fare restaurant. It is always the same: The cauliflower is pale beige, the broccoli is pale green; both come in "florets" and are nearly indistinguishable from each other in that they have neither taste nor odor and are the consistency of flab; or from the carrots, really, which are pale orange and crinkle cut, but otherwise equally insipid in the mouth. Because they are sold frozen, the vegetables are of indeterminate age; for all I know, they were harvested during the second Eisenhower administration. Because they are steamed to death and beyond, there is no possibility that they have retained any of their original flavor. I realize this is part of your strategy. This concoction will not give offense or even announce its presence through taste or aroma. It is generic food matter. And that is genius.
Vegetable medley satisfies a certain American weakness. At some point during the Cold War era, we apparently decided that the need for convenience and a supposedly "balanced meal" outweighed any requirement of taste, and this gave us TV dinners, with neatly partitioned segments containing a meat, a starch, and "vegetable medley," which people ate zombielike, with all the zest of someone sorting underwear at the laundromat, while watching "The Beverly Hillbillies" on black-and-white TVs. Then you guys came along and took the whole vegetable thing big-time. Today, to Americans, vegetable medley is reassuring on the restaurant dinner plate for its supposed low-calorie healthfulness, down there next to that bacon burger with avocado and blue cheese and a side of fries cooked in lard. Your side dish is particularly effective when served with mashed potatoes, under which it has been hidden, allowing the waiter to flee the scene before any discerning diners, such as me, can yell, "No! Not vegetable medley!"
By and large, we are a lazy and incurious people. We often fail to inquire what our side dishes will be. When I have remembered to do so, and the answer is "vegetable medley," I will ask for a substitute. When asked to elaborate, I have said: "I don't care. Anything with a taste. Sauerkraut and mackerel medley would be fine."
Even if you don't take me up on my book offer, I would urge you not to change your recipe one bit. I recently encountered a variant in a restaurant -- you might consider suing -- that added mushy green beans and a few wan kernels of corn. It was slightly less dreadful than your vegetable medley, yes, but it just seemed un-American, and this is not the time for tolerating such things. I shall alert Mr. Trump.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.
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