Eat plenty of wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruits is a very clear message from the European Code Against Cancer but one that Scots don’t do well on. Despite the familiar 5 a day message our national monitoring programme shows negligible changes in consumption of vegetable from around 126g per day in 2001 to 129g per day in 2012.
There is significant interest in cancer prevention and vegetables per se. Cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach and colorectum have all been shown to be significantly related to vegetable consumption which may reflect the range of bioactive components they contain including carotenoids, isothiocyanates, diallyl disulphide (from allium vegetables), and sulforaphane.
In many cultures, vegetables remain a central and valued part of food culture. My recent travels in Japan brought many welcome surprises and I knew I was heading for veggie treats when I discovered a vegetable promotion leaflet as part of local culture experiences. I’m sure we miss a trick by not featuring our Scottish winter selection to our international (and local) visitors. The humble turnip, parsnips, winter kale, sprouts, Jerusalem artichoke all deserve greater visibility. To experience salad at breakfast was sheer delight whether seaweed, grated roots or the highly esteemed daikon (a form of radish) and in Scotland would offer a great chance to shift the focus from the black pudding.
Mushroom selections, delicately stewed vegetables (aubergines) and clear turnip soup were just some of the culinary delights that we have yet to stumble upon to any great extent. Snacks of raw veggies in interesting shapes and roasted soya beans made me wonder about the possibility of homegrown pea based snacks. Indeed having seen many soya products I wonder if there is a whole culinary world of homegrown lentils and peas waiting to be explored.
I was uncertain about the health benefits of the veggie crisps and the ice-cream selections which included purple sweet potato and pumpkin. I might have to admit a bias but the vegetables seemed to be much better displayed at the markets than fruit (persimmon, giant grapes, apples and pears) and worthy of awards of the kind seen at local village shows.
The Scottish food advocacy group Nourish has done some great work in this area but we really need more support if we are to turn the Scottish diet around to one that will help to lower our cancer risk. How nice it would be to see the Scottish Food Commission taking a lead and encouraging vegetable promotion across all sectors as part of our rich culinary tapestry.