Why did people grow vegetables pre vitamin/mineral discovery?

I understand why hunter/gatherers ate vegetables. They’re easy to hunt, so why not eat a vegetable when you find it, even though there’s not much energy in it. I’m talking about the green, leafy stuff here. I also understand why we grow and eat vegetables today: they’re full of vitamins, minerals and other useful compounds that are harder to come by in other food.

What I don’t get is why people used to grow vegetables before vitamins/minerals were discovered. Vegetables don’t tend to taste all that great and contain very few calories, so why use valuable land and expend hard labor to grow the stuff?

There is plenty of energy in vegetables. For the amount of nutrition, or even simple belly-filling satisfaction, they provide, they are a lot easier and cheaper to produce than meat or most other non-vegetable foods. Also, most people over about 10 years old actually rather enjoy having vegetables as part of their diet and would not an enjoy an all meat and dairy diet. (Or whatever non-vegetable diet you may be thinking of. All candy? But that is a vegetable product.)

I think this is probably the root(hah) of the issue - your subjective view of vegetables is not universal. Even now we know about vitamins, people eat vegetables because they like them.

Leafy vegetables would have been used to add flavour to bland dishes such as gruel/porridge made from grain, or stews, or just to bulk out a dish and make it more filling when food was not abundant.

People ate vegetables originally because they were hungry.

people grew vegetables because it was a lot easier to cultivate them then go hunting for them. You knew where they were at all times, you could protect them better from herbivores, and you could save a lot of time hanging around the shanty instead of walking for miles and carrying them back.

They may not be as enjoyable to you as others in the past, but given the circumstances, cultivation of vegetables was a huge advance in human technology.

I assume that even without knowledge of the scientific facts, there would have been a general understanding that eating vegetables is healthy, kind of intuitively.

One way to look at this is to ask what the alternatives are. If people hadn’t grown vegetables, what would they have survived on? What would have been a better use of their time and effort?

Back in the day, “to avoid starvation” was a more powerful incentive than “to promote a balanced diet.”

They grew vegetables because they could harvest and store them for use through the winter, when hunting was hardest. My grandmothers farm had a real ‘root cellar’. Even on a farm, meat was precious in winter.
‘Valuable land’ is a modern concept.
So are ‘green, leafy vegetables’ - because even today lettuce can’t be stored for any length of time.

This is it. The OP makes a totally unwarranted assumption based on their own experiences and expects it to apply universally (not like all of us haven’t done that ourselves!)

Vegetables taste good and they don’t have to be chased down and butchered.

Or, more specifically, don’t have to be foraged (massively time-consuming) and, in cases of high localized populations, moving when overforaging has led to local exhaustion of the resource (which forces a nomadic existence).

Agriculture permitted stability; stability permitted time to be spent on endeavors beyond pure survival, such as toolmaking and social development; social development premitted culture and what we would recognize now as civilization.

We owe the whole growth of civilisation to the invention of arable farming. A stable, steady and cheap supply of food meant people could stop wandering the countryside looking for food, could settle down, build houses, raise non starving families, form communities and hey presto, you have cities.

Problem with animals is you either have to find them and kill them - not that easy - or you have to keep them and feed them to keep them alive. What are you going to feed them on? And how often are you going to slaughter one of your precious pigs?

I think he’s talking about vegetables as opposed to the staple starch crop of the region–wheat, rice, maize, manioc, plantain or whatever.

And in lots of places people really did eat bread or rice as 90% of every meal. Bread was your food, the other stuff was just for flavor and variety.

But when you’re looking down the barrel of bread for breakfast, bread for lunch, bread for dinner, today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life, a few vegetables that you could eat instead start to look mighty appealing.

And people knew that just eating bread and water wasn’t healthy, people who literally only ate bread and water always got sick and eventually died. Man cannot live on bread alone.

Exactly. Modern people are spoiled by the luxury of having meat available all the time. But back when the choice was often between eating plants and not eating, plants looked pretty good.

The other big advantage is that a family could start producing enough food to feed people outside of the family. Which meant those people didn’t have to spend all their time growing food and could start doing other stuff.

And there was the problem of what do you do with a pig when you do slaughter it? It’s not like a chicken that a family could eat in a single meal. An animal like a pig or a cow was too big to eat on the day you killed it. So you had to figure out what you were going to do with all that excess meat. Throw it out and waste it? Put a lot of effort into preserving it? Share it with the rest of the community?

Vegetables are a source of sweetness, too. Carrots, yams, gourds, tomatoes, peas, peppers, squash, even some stuff in the broccoli family is sweet.

Veggies compared to a lollipop probably aren’t sweet, but if you are eating nothing but meat and then munch on a carrot you’d be like “Holy shit, this is sweet! I want more carrots!”

Hunter-gatherers of today like the !Kung of Botswana and the Hadza of Tanzania only work around 14-15 hours a week. By contrast, early agriculture was incredibly labor-intensive.

Hunter Gathering is a Lifestyle that is only livable on a rather small portion of the planet. Its nice work if you can get it.

The non-cruciferous leafy green stuff, particularly, is harvestable early in the spring, long before other plants are harvestable. In fact, you get some very early when you thin the bed to promote better growth. It has vitamin C, which was important in areas where people could develop winter scurvy.

First off, I’m talking about the green, leafy stuff here. That’s the stuff that doesn’t taste very good (see below) and has very little calories, but it still requires a good deal of effort to grow because you basically eat the whole plant and then you have to plant a new one. Many fruits not only taste better and have more calories, but also grow on trees or shrubs that produce fruit year after year without much upkeep.

Grains, legumes and root vegetables also require a lot of work, but at least they have tons of calories along with often also quite adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals.

For instance:

100 g spinach: 23 kcal
100 g cabbage: 25 kcal
100 g potatoes: 87 kcal
100 g carrots: 41 kcal
100 g apples: 52 kcal

(Think about it: to get your calories from cabbage or spinach you’d have to eat about 10 kilos a day of it.)

About vegetable palatability: sure, lots of adults enjoy today’s vegetables. But any of you ever tried to get kids to eat vegetables? I rest my case. And I’m pretty sure a few hundred or thousand years ago the varieties that were available tasted a good deal worse than the ones in our supermarkets today, that have been selected for increased taste and reduced toxins for many generations.

Ok, now we seem to be getting somewhere. :slight_smile: