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When vegetables get caught up in politics

sad man vegetables

“I once caught my wife in bed with a cucumber.”

“Just one of many ways I’m entitled not to act like a grown-up.”

“Mommy’s not around to make me do anything anymore.”

“We’re all just one rutabaga away from living on some hippie liberal commune.”

“There’s only one thing men’s rights activists hate more than women, minorities, and using preferred pronouns, and that’s ingesting anything besides red meat,” writes The Onion. It “asked right-wing men why they refuse to eat vegetables, and this is what they said.”

The satirical website, long known for its made-up man-on-the-street interviews, posed this question to a number of fictitious men on the red end of the spectrum.

Headshot of Richard Smoley

People in the produce industry may bristle at the thought that eating vegetables might be considered weak, effeminate, left-wing, or all three, but the Onion feature wouldn’t be funny if it weren’t poking at a live nerve.

Vegetables’ stigma—real, imagined, or exaggerated—among would-be he-men can’t be the main reason that Americans’ per capita consumption of fresh produce remains abysmally low, but it’s probably somewhere on the list.

To attempt to deal with these jibes seriously, I would say that assigning foods to different ends of the ideological spectrum exemplifies what the Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspensky called “formatory thinking.” The “formatory apparatus” was Ouspensky’s name for the automatic, mechanical aspect of the human mind.

“The mechanical part consists of the cheapest kind of ready-made humor and a rough sense of the comical, love of excitement, spectacular shows, love of pageantry, sentimentality, love of being in a crowd and being part of a crowd; attraction to crowd emotions of all kinds and complete disappearance in lower half-animal emotions: cruelty, selfishness, cowardice, envy, jealousy, and so on,” says Ouspensky in a series of lectures entitled The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution.

Which is pretty much a capsule description of American mass culture.

“It is always possible to recognize ‘formatory thinking,’” Ouspensky observes. “For instance, the formatory center can count only up to two. It always divides everything in two: ‘bolshevism and fascism,’ ‘workers and bourgeois,’ ‘proletarians and capitalists,’ and so on. We owe most modern catchwords to formatory thinking.”

Ouspensky, who fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, is expressing this dichotomy in the concepts of his time, but it is easy to see how in today’s context, formatory thinking expresses itself as red versus blue, Republican versus Democrat, “woke” versus “antiwoke.”

Someone who grasps these points will have a reasonably clear explanation of the political and social climate of the present-day United States.

As applied even to vegetables.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.