Friday, July 30, 2010

How Peas Changed the World

The consumption of green vegetables created a paradigm shift in European culture that would reverberate through the centuries.

Let me explain.

Back in the Neolithic Age of my intellectual development, I attended community college for two years. Say what you want about community colleges, that they’re deplorable cesspools for single mothers, underachievers and knuckle draggers too stupid to apply themselves. I found it to be a stopover for my eventual transfer to a state college and a chance to learn the things I couldn’t in high school.

One of my professors was this old goofball named Dr. Mahoney, who wore these tweed jackets and looked like a character from a Thomas Hardy novel. Dr. Mahoney taught history of Western Civilization, the kind of elective you take because you wanted to cheer the accomplishments of white Europeans.

He taught with flourish and histrionics and always addressed us as “scholars.”

“Good afternoon, scholars,” he’d begin.

He was the kind of professor you wanted to have for the sheer entertainment value.

I remember one day Dr. Mahoney talked about the medieval period and just how rough those times were. He explained the incessant combat, the chaotic ruling structure, the iron grip of the church and its struggle with the crown and a plethora of diseases that infected the populace. Pretty basic textbook stuff it you’re studying the Middle Ages.

Then Dr. Mahoney told us about the profound changes that occurred between the medieval period and the Renaissance.

Overnight people didn’t grab brushes, start painting and, – viola! – DaVinci’s Mona Lisa came out. There were gradual, almost insignificant things that occurred in society that changed Europe forever, that brought Western Civilization out of the Dark Ages and into enlightenment.

One of these things was diet. Dr. Mahoney said people began eating better, thanks to newer farming techniques. The meat and grain diet of old gave way to more vegetables and that meant better nutrition, which led to developing immunities against diseases that led to a robust population.

Sickly peasants died out in great numbers, while healthier peasants lived longer, produced more and made their little fiefdoms thrive. This in turn enabled their landholders and noble class to become richer, patronize the arts, fund explorations to the New World and raise armies to conquer vast, uncharted regions of the globe.

People eating better meant longer life spans and healthier children who would in turn pass healthy genetic traits to successive generations.

This is all thanks to peas, according to Dr. Mahoney.

“So the next time you’re in the supermarket and go by the frozen foods section, just stop and say ‘Hi, peas! Thank you!’” Dr. Mahoney said.

I told you the guy was a goofball.

As a side note, my father referred to Dr. Mahoney as “Mr. Peas.”

The professor’s argument was compelling. What role does nutrition have in a society’s success or failure? Did a medieval farmer who deviated from the norm and grew green leafy vegetables know what he was doing when everyone else sustained themselves with wheat? Was the first European to eat a salad mocked, ridiculed and called a fag like vegetarians are today?

Humanity has done a complete 360-degree turn on its eating habits, shucking vegetables for processed foods that are making us fidgety, irate and miserable.

Technology has given us preservatives that keep food longer in our pantries and store shelves, but may be doing harm to our bodies. It’s not bad enough that we’re eating chemicals. We’re a society of coprophagists, eating shit and loving it, so long as the shit we’re eating tastes good.

While nutritionists tell us to have a balanced diet and eat more fruits and vegetables, they are sadly outnumbered by corporations whose bottomless advertising coffers fund massive campaigns designed to push us towards juicy cheeseburgers, snack chips and other high-fat, low-nutrition delicacies.

Not satisfied with existing junk food, people are diligently working to enhance the suck factor of what we eat. Our solution? Fry it. Fried Twinkies? Fried Oreos? Then there are things that are so ridiculous, like bacon cheese rolls, that make me weep for the future. In today’s kitchens there aren’t any problems a little hot oil, whipped cream filling or melted cheese can’t fix.

I’ll be the first to agree that vegetarians are preachy and annoying and that veggie burgers are a pox upon the planet, but they do have a point. Eating vegetables makes sense from a health perspective. Organic growing is catching on in recent years, probably because of a lack of pesticides and a return to “clean farming.”

With a reliance on fast food, junk food and shit from vending machines, we’re suffering from obesity, sickness and are generally more pissed off. I’m going out on a limb here, but a lack of green vegetables in our diets is turning us, as a collective, into assholes. We’re plagued with stress, anxiety and are developing things like high blood pressure and diabetes at alarming rates.

Exercise relieves stress and burns off pounds, but we wouldn’t have asses as big as luggage if we ate healthier. Now I enjoy a good bag of chips and a burger as much as the next red-blooded American male, but we have to watch what foods we consume. There should be no stigma against eating salads and vegetables.

These can’t be seen as the meals of craven, liberal wussies, but as acts of self-preservation. By consuming more green vegetables, especially leafy ones like lettuce and spinach, we might just pull ourselves out of a morass of general complacency, mental laziness and mediocrity. A vigorous, healthy population just might jumpstart the Second Renaissance and begin painting timeless masterpieces again. You know, art that doesn’t look it’s crapped out of a penguin.

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