The U.S. Supreme Court, during arguments about the new health care law in late March, thrust broccoli into the national spotlight.
Broccoli growers I know speculated that maybe if people ate more broccoli, then Americans’ health would improve — an alternative to a health care system overhaul.
What’s more, it’s delicious (just ask any kid who’s got a new salad bar in their school), and certainly a great source of nutrition.
But why single out broccoli?
From what I can tell, it started when a national opinion poll (Reason-Rupe) was released in late March that asked this question:
Do you think it would be constitutional or unconstitutional for Congress to require Americans to buy healthy foods, such as broccoli?
- Constitutional: 8%
- Unconstitutional: 87%
- Don’t know/refused: 5%
Maybe the pollsters were just using broccoli as an example, but I’d bet there’s some anti-broccoli bias going on. Don’t you think those 8% of people who are comfortable with a government “broccoli mandate” have to be broccoli lovers?
Or maybe broccoli growers?
Perhaps that groundbreaking consumer research was the reason why Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia used the cruciferous vegetable to illustrate a point during the arguments about the individual mandate for health care. He asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if the government could “make people buy broccoli.”
That’s just unfair for a high-ranking government official to talk that way about such a beloved vegetable.
Putting a positive perspective on the broccoli brouhaha, Ron Midyett, chief executive officer of Guadalupe, Calif.-based Apio and a member of United’s board of directors, spoke March 29 on National Public Radio.
“I think it’s been kind of a compliment that it’s been brought up with the Supreme Court discussions this week as a great example of a healthy and nutritious food,” he said. But this isn’t the first time.
In 2010, during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., asked whether a hypothetical law requiring Americans to eat three fruits and three vegetables a day would be constitutional.
“Sounds like a dumb law,” Kagan responded.
Almost certainly, Kagan thought it was “dumb” because three fruits and vegetables a day isn’t nearly enough!
President George H.W. Bush probably started it all in 1990. Saying he just didn’t like to eat it, he imposed a highly publicized broccoli ban aboard Air Force One.
The food you get on airplanes has gone downhill ever since.
In response, the folks at Apio fought back, eventually shipping 20,000 pounds of fresh broccoli to the White House. That got the president’s attention.
“There are truckloads of broccoli at this very minute descending on Washington. My family is divided. For the broccoli vote out there: Barbara loves broccoli. She has tried to make me eat it. She eats it all the time herself,” said the president.
Apio’s Nick Tompkins remembers that the White House broccoli delivery was front page news across America. Even though first lady Barbara Bush apparently ate a lot of broccoli in the White House, she could only eat so much.
So, Nick says all but just a few cases of the 10-ton shipment went to Washington, D.C.-area food banks.
At United Fresh, we’re doing our part to fight for broccoli justice.
At the United Fresh 2012 convention and show, May 1-3 in Dallas, we’re announcing solid progress in the growth of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative, and every one of those salad bars will be serving tasty broccoli for years to come to millions of American kids.
Now that’s a national health care strategy that makes a lot of sense.
Ray Gilmer is vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
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