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Eating on the Wild Side: Where Have All the Purple Carrots Gone?

Jul. 31, 2013

By Annie Donnelly, Slow Food USA intern

Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson is a fascinating analysis of the true nutritional content of today’s fruits and veggies. Although often considered the key to optimal health, the available produce we have today is actually vastly less nutritious than the varieties of our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors.

Even though we (mostly) no longer have access to these super-nutritious varieties, we do have Robinson to skillfully guide us to the most nutritious choices in today’s markets.

As a food science junkie, I found Eating on the Wild Side amazingly compelling. I purchased the book about a week ago, finished it in a handful of days, and have already referenced it more than a dozen times in the kitchen (confession: I may have also used it in the grocery store… twice).

Not only does the text offer a history of how each species of fruit or vegetable came to its modern state, it also explains how these evolutions impact us today.

One example of these fascinating changes is my favorite vegetable, the carrot. Robinson shares the little-known tidbit that in sixth-century Europe carrots were actually red, yellow, purple, and white. It was not until an urge to honor the House of Orange (a dynasty at the time) overcame plant breeders in the Netherlands that the orange carrot came to be. And through this selected breeding, we have lost a number of the nutrients and antioxidants found in the red, yellow, purple, and white carrots of the past. Robinson goes on to share how to maximize the nutrition of our current orange carrots (and some ways will definitely surprise you!).

Robinson’s analysis of our fruits and vegetables suggests that, throughout our history, little thought has been given to what’s actually in our produce. Rather, we just cultivated the yummiest, prettiest, and most easily attained foods. We see this playing out today in our processed foods; however, it is oddly refreshing to hear that our alteration of nature didn’t just begin with big agriculture, chemicals, and processing plants – it began the second we set down roots to farm.

That said, Eating on the Wild Side is not all doom and gloom. It offers a fresh twist on nutrition: not telling us what we “should” or “should not” eat for optimal health, but rather how to maximize our food’s nutrition whenever we can.

So, even if the closest you get to a plant-based diet is periodically enjoying an iceberg wedge salad, give this book a read – you’ll be surprised how far our food has come!

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