Friday, February 18, 2022

Andy Young: An unbeetable root vegetable

By Andy Young

Even when dinner at our college cafeteria was considered inedible by the other 899 people who dined there, my friend Karl always cleaned his plate. Multi-hued meat, runny mashed potatoes, canned vegetables that had been harvested before anyone consuming them was born, or furry sponge cake made from actual sponges: it didn’t matter. He’d unfailingly eat everything, no matter how grossly unappetizing it was.

But there was a reason: during his childhood his parent had a rule for him and his siblings; "Eat it or wear it."

Those words meant exactly what I (and Karl’s other horrified friends) thought they did. At dinnertime in their house each child got a plate, and 10 minutes to consume everything that was on it. Anyone failing to do so got the remains dumped over his or her youthful head by their dad.

Karl wore beets once. Thereafter he was a permanent member of the Clean Plate Club.

Thankfully, parenting has changed significantly since then.

So has my opinion of beets.

When we were kids my grandfather enjoyed borscht, a purple beet soup which looked nearly as vile as it smelled. On the rare occasions when those horrifying purple orbs were on the menu at our house, my siblings and I found the only palatable method of ingesting them was by mashing them into one massive glob, swallowing it quickly and then power-chugging a full glass of milk as a chaser.

Once I began cooking for myself, I thought I was rid of beets forever. But after a four-decade moratorium I decided to give it another try, and…well, there’s no other way to say it: I’ve been reborn! Fresh beets, when skillfully roasted, baked, or boiled, are sinfully good, and they’re as nourishing as they are delicious. I’ve been converted from beet-phobic to full-fledged beet zealot.

There are, however, a couple of things aspiring beet eaters should know before jumping on the root vegetable bandwagon. First, don’t panic when you relieve yourself after you’ve ingested these tasty taproots. You’re not bleeding internally; it only looks that way.

Secondly, clean up carefully after a beet repast. I learned the importance of that some time ago when I ventured out for a bike ride immediately after munching sloppily on a couple of large, tasty beets. Two or so blocks from my house I cycled past a child who appeared to be about 6 years old. She was, with the assistance of a woman I correctly deduced was her mother, pedaling down her driveway on what was clearly her first time on a big-girl bike. As I cruised past, I gave her an impressed look and said in my most encouraging voice, “You’re doing a great job.” The delighted, gap-toothed smile she flashed in return was priceless, but what was more memorable was the look on her mother’s face. It was one of utter revulsion, the sort one reserves for disease-carrying, drug-dealing child molesters.

Pedaling on, I felt a touch of pity for the young lady who’d evidently been saddled with a perpetually sour and suspicious parent. The remainder of my ride over seldom-traveled back roads was uneventful; I didn’t encounter another soul. But afterward, enroute to a well-earned shower, the reflection I saw in the bathroom mirror revealed why that girl’s mother found me so appalling. The reddish-purple stains bordering my mouth made me look like a zombie who had just finished munching on hors d’oeuvres that had been prepared by Jeffrey Dahmer.

So enjoy your beets. But to avoid alarming the neighbors, remember to scrub your entire face thoroughly when you’re done. <

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