Every seat in the College Station, Texas hall was filled with scientists and folks from the food industry, gathered for one reason: to wish a happy 20th birthday to the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center.
When you first hear that such a place exists, nestled inside of Texas A&M University, the name sounds ridiculous. How can you improve upon a vegetable? I imagined subterranean laboratories where veggies are injected with a secret bacon-flavored serum, a mutant supergarden where veggies are crossbred with kale to make super superfoods.
What I learned was that the VFIC wasn’t just a place where scientists aim to make vegetables healthier (though they often do by boosting antioxidant and vitamin content.) Above all else, it’s where they try to get people to simply eat their vegetables. The best way to maximize the health benefits of vegetables, of course, is to get people to put them in their bodies.
“The final end product of this whole center is to provide healthy, tasty, and flavorful vegetables and fruit, which will eventually reduce healthcare costs,” said Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center. Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables help inhibit diseases of all stripes, from cancer to obesity.
“I guess sometimes we’re in a little academic bubble here,” said Kevin Crosby, a vegetable breeder and associate professor of horticultural sciences at the VFIC. “We think people should eat vegetables, and we don’t know why they don’t—but we also need to think how to educate the public, how to spread that interest or that excitement about vegetables to everyday people who don’t even think about vegetables.”