Vegetable Vocabulary: The Landscape

By Lynette Johnson *

SoSA Volunteers

Society of St. Andrew gleaning volunteers at the East Chase Farmers Market in Birmingham, AL.

My grandmother began homemaking in the early years of the Great Depression, and had six growing children during the patriotic rationing years of World War II. Grandma made sure her family was well fed by growing a garden each summer and by canning and preserving the garden’s bounty for healthy food throughout the year.

Grandma grew, and her family ate, just about everything: beets, melons of all sorts, turnips, rutabagas, chard, kale, rhubarb, and on and on. Until she reached her mid-80s, Grandma kept at least a full-acre garden every year.

My mother, Grandma’s daughter-in-law, was always a “from scratch” cook, concerned about good nutrition for her family. Every meal had two vegetables, a fruit, a starch, and a meat. At home, though, we only ever grew strawberries, tomatoes, and sometimes beans in a little plot outside the back door. Mom did some canning, but most of our fruits and vegetables came from the grocery store. Asparagus and Brussels sprouts were exotic for us growing up.

Fast forward another generation: I’ve been a single, working mom for more than a decade. I have never had time or energy to get very excited about gardening or cooking, so my children grew up eating an even narrower array of fruits and vegetables than I did.

My family’s story is fairly typical. Our nation’s vegetable “vocabulary” has narrowed dramatically in just a couple of generations. Changing family dynamics, economic pressures, and cheap convenience foods have lured us away from our roots in the earth.

As the vegetable vocabulary has narrowed, cooking knowledge has decreased at all income levels. Even such basic skills as how to read a recipe are far from universal. Families struggling to get by may lack cooking equipment (pots, pans, measuring cups, working stove) and standard ingredients (anything beyond salt and pepper) to prepare even simple dishes.

This limited vegetable vocabulary is a big challenge for an organization like the Society of St. Andrew, that shares healthy food with hungry people.

If raw fruits and vegetables, fresh from field or orchard, are shared with hungry families, then those who receive them have to know what they are, know how to prepare or serve them, and have the ingredients, equipment, and time to do so.

Corn, beans, tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, potatoes—those and a few others are fairly universally familiar in the U.S. At the Society of St. Andrew, we believe that sharing these directly with folks who need good food makes a lot of sense.

We find that less familiar fruits or vegetables (like mangoes, peppers, turnips, or eggplants) are often best shared through a soup kitchen or shelter, where trained kitchen staff can prepare and serve them to clients or guests.

Expanding the vegetable vocabulary is an important topic, and one for another blog post.

For this post, let your takeaway be that Society of St. Andrew staff and volunteers do their very best every day to match the produce gleaned with the needs of the intended recipients.

With your help, we share fresh fruits and vegetables, often on the day they are harvested, and always in type and quantities that can be used quickly and without waste by the recipient.

Want to learn more about canning and preserving fruits and vegetables? Check with your local Agriculture Extension agency for classes, or visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

* Lynette Johnson is SoSA’s Director of Church Relations



In the event I, or a registered family member, suffers any illness or accident requiring emergency hospitalization, medication, or other medical assistance while participating in a gleaning event, permission is given for any medical treatment which is deemed necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. I fully understand and comprehend that reasonable care will be exercised by the adult staff for this gleaning event to protect the safety of those involved. I understand that the field supervisor’s instructions must be followed at all times, and that I am responsible for any damages caused to fields, farms, or equipment by me/my family members not following these instructions.

Photos, videos, and other images in which I, or a registered family member, appear that are taken during gleanings may be used by the Society of St. Andrew for news coverage, newsletters, reports, displays, and for other print, broadcast, web, or electronic news or promotional purposes.

I do not hold the board, members, or employees of the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA,) or any volunteers liable for injury, bodily harm, accidents, or death of myself/my child during events sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew. Neither will I hold the person(s) who owns and/or operates the property from which we glean, salvage, or to which we deliver food, liable for accidents, injury, or death during the gleanings or other SoSA events.

For a PDF print version of this waiver, click here.

How the Story of the 12 Baskets is Connected to SoSA’s Name

Matthew 14:16-21

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

2 Kings 4:42-44

[…]the man of God […] said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.