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The Silence of the Sprouts

February 12, 2010

This just in from the New York Times: Brussels sprouts are calling you out. They want to make it, just like you.

In fact, they don’t just want to make it. They are ruthless. They are frickin’ diabolical. Were their actions not in self-defense, they would be downright serial killer. Scientists have determined that when a female cabbage butterfly lays eggs on a brussels sprouts plant, the plant knows it, because it senses a chemical in the adhesive the butterfly uses to attach the eggs. The sprouts plant then alters the chemicals in its leaves to attract female parasitic wasps. The wasps lay their eggs inside the butterfly eggs and the baby wasps FEED UPON the baby butterflies. And the brussels sprouts plant mutters, “Yees … Yees … eeeexcellent” under its breath.

What’s more: The chemical that tips off the sprouts plant in the first place is passed from the male butterfly to the female butterfly in an effort to ensure paternity. And it ends up killing all the children. Sorry butterflies. Next time you want kids, try asking someone other than the plant-world equivalent of the scary-clown-mask dude from Saw to babysit.

If you cannot resist a good food trend, let this be a warning: Brussels sprouts are not “misunderstood.” They want you to leave them the heck alone. They explode baby butterflies so they can be left alone. They have been flying under the radar for years, armed with their sulfuric smell, tough outer leaves, and gelatinous fresh-from-the-can “plop.” They are likely very, very angry that you have discovered that they are delicious when roasted or braised until caramelized and nutty. They are wondering how you would like it if you were sliced thin, cooked at high heat, and sprinkled with cheese. And they know that you are sleepy and vulnerable when well-fed …

If this is true, then I should be sleeping with one eye open. Because I cannot resist a good food trend. And I braised brussels sprouts this week, in olive oil and butter, with a few glugs of cream thrown in at the end. I tossed them with some pasta, toasted pine nuts, and handful of parmesan. I ate the leftovers for three days, and I felt no remorse. On the contrary, I felt full, happy, and rather smug that I tricked myself into eating so many veggies.

Then I waded into the debate that this article sparked in the comments section on the Times web site, and all around the Interwebs. I’m still not sure what brussels sprouts’ will to live means for my vegetarianism. Like the author of the Times article, I admit that most of my food choices do not have a particularly compelling rationale. At least not beyond “Bread + Cheese = Happy.”

The first thought that crossed my mind was: If you don’t eat anything that you know wanted to live at some point, won’t you starve? What are you supposed to eat? Even Pop Rocks and Pixie Stix wouldn’t make the cut, for crying out loud.

Meanwhile, I continue to hover between apathy and compassion; between Alice Waters and Paula Deen; between local, organic produce and Last Call Jalepeno Poppers Doritos. The only conclusion I draw is that I ought to do less hovering and more food philosophizing. To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined meal is not worth eating. Or something like that. Do you agree?

And if you do, ask yourself: In the still of the night, while you rest in peaceful food-induced slumber, will Buffalo Brussels Sprout think twice about your food philosophy?

I got the recipe for Braised Brussels Sprouts with Pasta and Pine Nuts (and Death) from a PCC cooking class, and I am pretty sure they got it from the ever-lovely and decidedly non-serial-killer-esque Orangette. You can find it here.

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