Strive for five a story of courage and other lofty intentions of produce
My friend Cupcake and I sat staring at our plates. The wedge of silent trepidation was thick between us. Some sort of pale white root cut into neat little matchsticks, the shrink rayed sized festive colored peppers and sprouted micro shoots looked liked something that should be curated, not eaten.
Cupcake and I grew up with similar limited expectations about faceless food. A vegetable was either the parsley nestled with North Country artistry next to a flimsy orange on fish fry night, or it had a gray cast to it when you opened the can. During a summer visit to my hometown with one stoplight, the grocery store cashier asked me what an avocado was while I was checking out.
We were in our second year of school together, and both felt as gray and waxy as the green beans of our youth. Our hamster wheels were built from tiny number 2 pencils, scantrons, unintelligible professors, mysterious administration fees, flashcards, full time jobs, rigid polyester lab coats and, paperwork filled clinic shifts. We both wanted off this dizzying wheel. In efforts to break through the concrete grind of our depressing exsistence , we began a challenge between the two of us called Strive For Five.
One my clinic patients served as a catalyst for our lofty quest. This patient thought the notion of ‘eating healthy’ was omitting cheese on his french fries. Seeing him each week, I would come up with another dog and pony show about why a snickers bar from the hotel mini fridge did not count as a breakfast. I made diagrams, flow charts and outlines on where the produce aisle was located in a supermarket, and formulated side by side comparisons on pressed deli meat and a head of lettuce. After each session with this patient I always arrived at the same question swathed in a dark cloak of self-doubt. Like a piece of wet finished spaghetti flung on a kitchen wall, how could I make this stuff stick? ‘Strive for Five’ rhymed. If we had to, we could make a rock ballad out of the phrase and on a jingle-bility scale, it was off the charts. Making the attempt to incorporate 5 servings of produce between the gloaming whirling dervish of to do lists and mindless eating planted the right seed in this patient’s head. He actually started ordering salads instead of pizza for dinner and learned to substitute a vegetable side for fries. The guitar in the background of his head when he ordered restaurant mealsplayed a familiar riff as the leather clad rockstar ripped through the ‘ strive for five’ chorus. And, like the pasta, it had stuck on the wall.
If this was working for our patient, Cupcake and I wondered if we could apply the Strive for Five idea to our own lives, while at the same time expand our produce knowledge beyond the piece of parsley and gray green beans. For the first meal together I went big. I crafted jicama into matchsticks, shaved fennel, sliced oranges, added tiny peppers and pea shoots. A little over the top, but true to our family cooking motto of ‘go big or go home.’ Thanks to my patient, I had busted through my Northern-New-York-pot roast-to-the people wall and I was never going back. I started going to our farmers market and getting the most foreign produce I could think of. When I didn’t know what to do with it I felt like the shrimp guy in the Forest Gump movie. Fryit, charit, grillit, boil it, steamit, roastit. Some end products were best suited for men in white coats and petri dishes. Others actually made the patient worthy list.
My friend and I didn’t start big, but we started together. Like learning German or how to flat iron your hair, striving for five is about starting somewhere and it is a great place to apply the buddy system. So Achtung! I have some Kale, a flat iron and a friend named Cupcake.