Let’s not forget that which things you consider food is a cultural thing. If you come from an area where spinach grows wild and people have been eating it for centuries, then it makes perfect sense to include it as a crop once your local culture has converted to agriculture.
My grandmother was raised on a subsistence farm and would often talk about how by the end of winter, they were “starving” for anything fresh and green and sweet. Raw spinach may not taste sweet to a kid raised on sugar pops, but to a kid who has had nothing but salt cured pork and musty “cut the bad parts out” potatoes for a couple of months, fresh spinach was a highly anticipated treat.
Cabbage plants are the same species as Brussels sprouts which have a caloric density slightly higher than carrots.
First, dislike of vegetables is nowhere close to universal among children. And if the only diet that made sense to pursue was one that was liked by a child, my lunch would have been a mound of candy and if I was looking for balance, some cake.
Second, the fact that vegetables even exist proves that they were palatable to our ancestors. There weren’t many recognizable vegetables until people started farming several thousand years ago. People created them through selective breeding. The Brussels sprouts and cabbage mentioned above (which are also the same species as broccoli) were bred from a wild mustard plant. By the time you’re eating a vegetable that isn’t a leaf or a little seed, you’ve probably already got many generations of selection behind you.
Perhaps in ancient times those who consumed more vegetables in a more varied diet, for whatever reason, ended up being healthier, due to the presence of said vitamins/minerals, and were thus more able to propogate and/or survive challenging environmental conditions? These would be the people who kept vegetables a part of their diet and culture.
Well, that’s true of a vegetable crop too. Right down to the present day, in fact, which is why I have to find a gentle way of telling the neighbors that, no, I really can’t use any more of their freaking zucchini.
Waiter: “Are you still enjoying your asparagus?”
Socially awkward customer: “I was never enjoying it. I only eat it for the nutrients.”
I actually enjoyed vegetables as a kid. Culture teaches children not to like vegetables. Well, that and the horrible cooking methods people use–boiled spinach? yuck! A fresh spinach salad, with grated carrots and an orange dressing? yum!
A hundred years ago, vegetables were bred for taste. These days, they are bred for large and early harvests, as well as ease of harvest. If they can produce a tough skinned tomato that will withstand the rough handling of mechanical harvesters over a delicious, juicy, yet delicate one, the corporate farms will choose the tough skinned one, despite the fact that it is virtually flavourless.
Kids ate what they were told to eat, which was anything placed in front of them. Allowing kids to refuse food because of taste is a symptom of having a society so awash in abundance that choice is possible. This is extremely modern.
Varieties today are simply not bred for taste; they are bred to look good and survive transport. We have literally bred taste out of foods. That’s why so-called heirloom vegetables are all the rage - they taste much better.
Here’s another factor: the vast majority of peasants were tied to their land. They did not own anything but worked for a lord of some sort. They could grow only things that could survive on their plot, be native to their climate, and didn’t take up too much room. Peasants mostly survived on gruel from day to day, harvested from the lord’s common lands that they had to devote most of their time to. Anything that they could add to that was, so to speak, gravy.
They kept few animals because animals require space and food. The ones they did have were of the type they kept alive to provide eggs and milk. They ate them only when they grew too old or when survival was paramount.
They couldn’t grow copious amounts of fruit because trees took up space and they didn’t have any way of transplanting them from other areas. Growing them from seed was possible but the time and return was quite low. You have to process fruit as soon as it’s ripe or you lose it.
They could grow multiple types of vegetables in small amounts of space - we must have had 20 kinds in my back yard when I was growing up - and vegetables provide their own seeds. Only vegetables make sense in the real world of ancient times of no freedom, no movement, little equipment, and little free time.
I cannot tell you the time, effort and water I put into raising my own tomatoes, other than it’s is cheaper in terms of money and effort just to buy them at the store. However, to have a fresh BLT with tomatoes straight from my garden is more than worth the effort. The flavor, texture and taste are wonderful in their own right. When compared to the bland shit sold in stores, home-grown tomatoes are heaven. Come the middle of winter I defrost tomatoes and make an exquisite pasta sauce for my spaghetti. The flavor, texture and taste are all there. You cannot get that from a store.
Having spent time with subsistence farmers who lived off grain, peanuts and leafy greens…
Leafy greens are awesome. You can grow then easily on whatever patch of land you have available- next to your house, in a field, on the lane, wherever. They don’t take much space or work. Each green has a different taste and texture. Some are sour, some are bitter, some are velvety, some are thick. These differences provide much appreciated variety. They can be easily dried or pickled, making them valuable when fresh food is out of season.
As for other veggies, never underestimate the power of showing off. Farmers enjoy stretching their limits and trying new and difficult things, and cooks enjoy taking on new challenges and showing off to their guests.
And remember the amount of work to grow a little plot of vegetable is not that high. You’re a subsistence farmer, your main job is growing grain. The vegetable plot is tiny compared to the grain fields. You plant the seeds, chop down the weeds every so often, and pick when things are ripe. None of this garden work happens during the spring planting, or the fall harvest, which are nonstop sunup to sundown work in the fields. The vegetables are planted and tended and harvested outside this time.
Also note that when you grow grain, a large fraction of that is taken away by the powers that be, whether that is called rent, or sharecropping, or taxes, or whatever. Grain is storable. Your plot of vegetables is perishable, and if the local landlord wants vegetables he has his own garden plot on his estate.
Also the OP’s argument is circular. If we had never started to eat vegetables until we discovered their vitamin content, we wouldn’t ever start to eat vegetables. No-one considers the vitamin content of tree-bark or shaved-off rat’s fur.
Coincidentally, I was just this morning talking with my mother about the time when I was a six-year-old that I came home from dinner at a friends raving about the wonderful new vegetable that they served.
To follow up on what Tom Tildrum said, many vegetables are easy to grow. We planted two squashes, both of which died (terrible garden year) but we got a volunteer that grew from my compost that is now producing two zucchinis a day with zero effort on my part except a bit of watering. (Sure you don’t want some?) I believe that vegetable gardening was a job that women did in their copious free time while the men were in the fields raising the cash crop. Vegetable gardens are typically close to the house, and can be fertilized by the domestic animals. Mine was fertilized by horses.
As for taste, if you hate the taste you might be cooking them wrong. I always liked vegetables, as did my wife, as did our kids. A lot of problems with kids eating them probably comes from adults resisting them while ordering kids to eat.
The calorific (not to mention other nutritional) return on the effort is much higher than that for meat. What foods do you think give a better nutritional (or even merely calorific) return on effort than vegetables?
Vegetables most certainly are real food. As I am sure you know, many people live, quite healthily, on nothing but vegetables.