Opinion Piece: The future of Vegetables: Nutrient-Density & Bio Availability Pt. 2

Opinion Piece: The future of Vegetables: Nutrient-Density & Bio Availability Pt. 1
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Opinion Piece: The future of Vegetables: Nutrient-Density & Bio Availability Pt. 2

Plant Based Vegan Diet

Understanding Vegetables

Regardless of dietary orientation, there are few that would argue against the ide that Vegetables are healthy. They indisputably offer us nutrients to maintain optimum health. However, in the modern capitalistic society, we live in vegetables that lack commercial draw as they cannot be branded, innovated with, or generate high-profit levels. They operate in what is known as a “perfectly competitive” market. Alongside this, consumers just don’t consider them that attractive or tasty. The question is how can one turn this nutritional staple of our species into a commercially viable non-commodity-based enterprise? The answer is nutrient-dense vegetables. Farmers must look at what can be branded, rubber-stamped, and de-commodified. While the consumer may hold the perception that all vegetables are created equal, a farmer focusing on nutrient density can make their product distinct in its own right.

Consider this simple example: When farming you produce a commodity, for example, potatoes. The price received in the marketplace for this product fluctuates up and down according to supply & demand. In some cases, you as a producer are at the peril of the globalized food supply competing on price on a global stage. In order to differentiate farming produce, one must move away from this system to produce a branded product in its own right which is held as unique in the mind of the consumer. Differentiating the identity of your product from a nutritional standpoint, while adding a brand story, could potentially create a whole new category of products within or completely separate from the existing vegetable marketplace.

This, in turn, could separate it from anything on the market, further distancing yourself from unstable price volatility. Take dairy for example: dairy farmers use their milk to produce cheese, ice-cream, or yogurt. For a humble vegetable to have its “dairy moment” it must become the staple ingredient in a new product or highly sought after, perhaps from a nutrition standpoint, in its own right. This could potentially differentiate the product away from commodified produce, and allow a farmer or producer to enter a whole new market.

What Makes A Fruit Or Vegetable Taste Good?

Plants need certain minerals from the soil to grow. The health of the soil is based on how diverse, complex, and extensive these mineral systems are. Think of matrix-like connections beneath the surface, every single being intimately interconnected and supported by the next. These holistically systems extend beyond the plants themselves to fungi, insects, and other organic matter. Each plant has its own specific mineral need from the soil while simultaneously contributing to it. In layman’s terms, each plant both takes and gives nutrients to the soil. The more diverse an ecosystem, the higher the mineral and nutrient density, and thus plants will produce a nutrient-dense end product. If it's not in the soil, it's not in the food. If it's not in the food, it's not in you.

This is an organic process that occurs without the intervention of man. This is allowing nature to do its thing. A plant capturing energy from the sun via photosynthesis, combining it with nutrients from the soil, and packaging it into a vegetable ready for human consumption. In modern-day farming environments, we use fertilizers on a single or “mono-crop” culture and bypass the previously described process. When fertilizer is spread on a crop (usually a combination of NPK -nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) it supercharges the plant to grow as quickly as possible, alleviating the vegetable from developing factual nutrients and therefore any flavor. In the eyes of the market, shape, and size trump taste. It is important to remember that the market rewards volume yield and time, not taste, and nutrition. Risk minimization and reward maximization is the name of the game, treating land like a mechanical resource. However, there is a new wave of commercial farming operations going against the grain.

What is Possible

There are several companies striving in the field of specialized vegetable production. They aim to produce vegetables in the same way pedigree dogs are bred into existence. In its simplest form, it is choosing the sweetest most nutrient-dense vegetables and using their seeds to grow more favorable vegetables. Throughout the growing process, the veggies are given the very best of foundational care as mentioned before in the form of biodiversity & ideal growing conditions. After this process is repeated multiple times the end result reveals a whole new remarkable, elevated concentration of both flavor and nutrient density. This new breed of “pedigree” vegetables provide a flavor experience previously unknown to the average consumer: potatoes so creamy you don't need butter, and squash so packed with flavor, it doesn't require maple syrup to make it delicious. From a health perspective, flavor and nutrition are on par - when you select for flavor in natural foods, you are selecting for nutrition, too. Flavour and aroma compounds—these are the compounds that for example, make tomatoes so mouth-watering—often derive from essential nutrients. It could be considered nature's system of evaluating nutrient density & telling us what it is we should be eating for optimal health.

So, if a consumer walks into a vegetable shop or isle, how can they differentiate these higher nutrient-dense fruits & vegetables from existing offerings without an educated palette or keen eye? Enter the "Brix meter". A Brix meter (or Refractometer) is a small handheld device specifically designed for testing the sugar content and specific gravity of a liquid. Thus, the flavor and nutrient density can be estimated instantly. While this may seem outlandish and impractical now, future consumers will become more conscious of these measurements, as they seek to optimize nutrient intake & improve their health.

Many now argue that the organic movement has become nothing more than a branding exercise, hijacked by big business and it is perceived benefits were used to command a higher price point from the consumer. The modern resurgence of whole foods, fuelled by the rise in part of the plant based diet, has brought the concept of organic farming under the spotlight once more, with those producers practicing the techniques correctly experiencing a boom in demand. This new movement is seen as different. Nutrient density will be for those seeking more than just people flexing their social footing as organic is viewed by many as a status symbol for those in a certain income bracket. Given the choice, consumers aided with the fundamental education on the roots and foundation of true health will demand highly nutrient-dense vegetables in the future. If given the education, time, and flexibility, despite these turbulent times, farmers will develop such products.

The above piece was contributed by Plant Based Ireland Reader Joseph Roche

Please note that the above piece reflects the opinion of the reader only and does not reflect the opinions of the Plant-Based Ireland Organisation or its members, employees, and associates.